8. Risk and safety planning
Many services reported that, although risk to victims did not change significantly, the impact and risk of domestic abuse was magnified by lockdown, the isolation of victims and increased control of the perpetrator. Many organisations reported that while there was few changes in perpetrator behaviour specific to lockdown, victims' safety planning options, ability to access usual sources of support, freedom to engage with services and ability to effectively safety-plan were significantly curbed.
The service-generated risks of safely contacting victims who reside with/are being monitored by an abusive partner was a major challenge for many organisations,particularlyin the first two weeks of lockdown. Many organisations required to amend working protocols on how and when they contacted clients, and some services extended their operational hours (to early mornings, late evenings and weekends) to better manage client safety and improve accessibility.
Throughout this phase of lockdown, innovative options for safety planning continued to be fairly limited. Services reported safety-planning must now take into account the dual risk from the perpetrator and COVID-19, particularly for those in shielded groups. A number of services reported some of the usual safety planning options, such as leaving the house, attending neighbours' houses, or seeking assistance in public spaces (such as cafes or shops) were significantly curbed. A number of organisations experienced challenges in conducting risk assessment and safety planning with victims, due to sporadic communication, the presence of children in the house, or being unable to safely contact them.
During this phase of lockdown, services reported it is more difficult to separate from an abusive partner, particularly where couples resided together. Services consistently reported a number of cases whereby the victim was choosing to remain with the perpetrator for the duration of lockdown, but planned to separate once restrictions were eased. In many of these cases, victims' decisions to stay were influenced by the lack of temporary housing options during lockdown. Throughout the initial 8 week period, there were continued reports of clients with additional needs, housing issues, addictions and/or who were severely isolated being coerced into returning to abusive partners, with perpetrators moving back into the victim's house in some cases. Services perceived this was due to victims having fewer sources of support during lockdown.
There were some specific challenges related to lockdown for Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) women, particularly related to legal applications and appeals, and separation from abusive partners. BME support organisations reported that women who are European Economic Area (EAA) nationals were not meeting habitual residency criteria and this was impacting on access to universal credit. This was exacerbated by lockdown due to delays in legal applications and the lack of employment opportunities. Services also reported that gaining access to the necessary documentation required for legal appeals (such as banking documents, proof of income, housing information) has been particularly challenging during lockdown. Services that support women in prostitution/CSE report that a significant proportion of women applying for destitution grants are those with insecure immigration status.