Lockdown abuse

While living in lockdown may be hard for most people, for some it is downright dangerous says Alison Johnstone.

People living with an abusive or coercive partner will feel trapped, with opportunities to reach out to family, friends or other support limited and challenging. While women’s refuges are running at a reduced capacity, Marsha Scott, chief executive of Scottish Women’s Aid has confirmed that every single service is still up and running.

Last month, Refuge, the UK’s largest domestic abuse charity, reported a shocking 49 per cent increase in calls to its helpline. In Scotland the disclosure scheme, which reveals if your partner has an abusive past, saw an increase in requests.

Domestic abuse is a crime in Scots law and, as of last year, the definition of that crime was expanded to include controlling and coercive behaviour. But with so much of life currently happening behind closed doors, there may be a lot that goes unreported and it will be some time before we hear of the impact enforced isolation has had on this awful crime.

It’s essential at this time that we do whatever we can to support women and children impacted by domestic abuse. It is welcome that Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland have seen a boost in emergency funding.

Scottish Women’s Aid have warned that the severity of abuse in the home is likely to have been made worse by increased social isolation, exacerbated by the fact that access to safe spaces is more limited and children are not able to get away to school, nursery or sports clubs.

Many women in abusive relationships don’t reach out, they find ways of coping on their own or with close friends, but these ways of coping will be more difficult now. We need to make sure support services get whatever support they need to remain accessible at this time.

Support doesn’t stop at ensuring a person’s safety. Women need an escape route that provides financial independence and self-esteem. This begins with the ability to take control of as much of life as possible.

This week parliament is set to pass its second set of emergency laws during the coronavirus crisis, and I have lodged an amendment which would see the contraceptive pill be made available free from pharmacies. For women in crisis at home a trip to the GP may be difficult at the moment. Access to contraception could be very important for some, and the minor ailments service at pharmacies provides a route to fix this, while helping reduce demand on the NHS during the pandemic.

Pharmacies can be a single point of contact with services for many people. At a time when many support services have dropped face-to-face meetings altogether, a pharmacist might be the only professional some women speak to. Some pharmacies are already offering safe spaces for domestic abuse victims during the coronavirus lockdown, so they are the right place to also get access to contraception.

In the meantime, if you think you may be experiencing abuse during lockdown, the Scottish domestic abuse helpline is 0800 027 1234 for confidential, sensitive advice 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Call Rape Crisis Scotland Helpline 08088 010302 to access support every day between 6pm and midnight or email