"now is the time for the church to be intentional about finding ways to connect and offer support."
Cases of domestic abuse have sadly risen dramatically during the coronavirus lockdown period. The National Domestic Abuse helpline run by the charity Refuge, has reported an increase in calls and online requests for help since the lockdown with a 10-fold increase in visits to their website in the last two weeks of May alone. What does this mean for the church and how it should respond during these difficult times?
As lockdown restrictions were imposed across the country, campaigners warned this could heighten domestic tensions and cut off escape routes with representatives from Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu and Sikh communities reporting they had heard reports of abuse in the home ranging from psychological and physical violence to spiritual abuse during the coronavirus emergency.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, said current restrictions telling people to stay indoors were even harder for people whose home is not the safe place it should be. "Whilst our advice is to stay at home, anyone who is at risk of, or experiencing, domestic abuse, is still able to leave and seek refuge. Refuges remain open, and the police will provide support to all individuals who are being abused - whether physically, emotionally, or otherwise," she said.
The government pledged to spend £76m to support vulnerable people who are "trapped in a nightmare" at home during the coronavirus lockdown. The funding package will help community-based services that work with victims of domestic abuse, sexual violence and modern slavery, as well as vulnerable children, in England and Wales. What part can the church play in helping victims of domestic abuse?
Cathy Johnson, Safeguarding Manager at Thirtyone:eight, spoke to the Church Times recently about the rise in cases. She said the the church has an important role to play in supporting victims to get the help they need:
“The current Covid-19 crisis has largely forced people to stay at home, as well intentioned as this is, it means that for many people, they are now at greater risk of harm in an already abusive relationship and will have fewer opportunities to raise the alarm or ask for help. The usual support mechanisms such as home groups or pastoral visits may not be taking place in the usual way, making it harder for church members to check in on someone they may be concerned about. If there is a known history of concern for an individual or family, now is the time for the church to be intentional about finding ways to connect and offer support."
"Churches can help by researching and knowing what support is available locally and nationally so that they can signpost appropriately. It is also important that leaders and pastoral teams are aware that the individual may not be able to talk freely on the phone or via social media. In addition, children in the household may also be impacted if only from hearing or witnessing the abuse which may not be directed at them."
"It is hard for a person to leave a domestic abusive situation at the best of times, no less in a time of crisis and uncertainty. The government have made it clear that anyone in a domestic abusive situation can leave to find a place of safety, but support is key in this so helping people to plan where, how and what this looks like in the short term and long term needs to be discussed. Churches can help by speaking about this issue openly with all church members and encouraging anyone who has concerns for an individual or a family to report it to the designated safeguarding coordinator immediately. Children’s Services and the Police are still working on the frontline and so serious concerns should still be escalated."
We've compiled a list of online sources of support and helpline numbers to call if you are at risk of harm or you know someone who is. This can be found here. We work in partnership with the charity Restored to deliver training on this important subject. For further support contact Thirtyone:eight’s Safeguarding Helpline on 0300 003 1111 option 2.