The Domestic Abuse Bill returned to the Commons for its second reading this week, a timely reminder not to forget those who during the COVID-19 restrictions are in lockdown with the very people who may cause them harm. The report by the Home Affairs Select Committee on Covid-19: domestic abuse and risks of harm within the home made harrowing reading:
- There has been a 49% increase in calls to the national domestic abuse helpline run by the charity Refuge with visits to its website trebling in March 2020 compared to the same month last year.
- Researchers at the Counting Dead Women project (@countdeadwomen) told the Select Committee that 14 women and two children had been killed in the first three weeks of lockdown. The figure is the largest number of killings in a three-week period for 11 years and more than double the average rate, they said
- In London, the Met Police have reported 4,000 arrests for domestic abuse offences – an average of around 100 a day – since 9 March, when people with coronavirus symptoms were asked to self-isolate. They are calling on victims and family and friends to speak out.
After years of tireless campaigns by charities and pressure groups, domestic abuse is now very much on the national agenda. A fortnight ago the Home Secretary announced a new domestic abuse awareness campaign launching #youarenotalone and last year the Government appointed its first domestic abuse commissioner, Nicole Jacobs.
But Church has always been a voice for the voiceless and a sanctuary for those in need. Domestic abuse in all its forms is contrary to the will of God and an affront to human dignity. Our current times should be no exception – our buildings may not be open but the Church’s work goes on. Out of sight must not be out of mind.
Melissa Caslake the Church of England’s national director of safeguarding says this: “We all need to play our part in preventing or halting abuse and if you are concerned about someone, through one of your church’s activities, or a friend or family member, do follow this up.”
Our parish churches are in every community and through their work will be aware of the most vulnerable and those they have particular concerns about. Women’s Aid reminds us that in the majority of cases (there are men’s advice lines), domestic abuse is experienced by women and perpetrated by men, seriously affecting the children if there are any.
Again, Melissa says: “Get advice from your Diocesan Safeguarding Advisor and of course if you think that someone is in immediate danger, call the police on 999. For victims knowing they not alone, particularly during these restrictions, can be the first step. There is a lot of advice out there and the National Safeguarding Team has put together a helpful guidance note on its COVID-19 pages.”
I was struck by a particularly horrific item of news this week about the fatal stabbing of two very young children. We should continue to pray for all who live in fear, but we should also act if we have any concerns. Let us continue to follow God’s example, walking in the way of love, just as Christ loved us (Ephesians 5:1-2).