With thanks to SafeLives and Women’s Aid for their information and guidance on this subject.
We know that the unprecedented situation at this time is difficult for everyone, particularly those who may be facing long periods of isolation with someone who may be harming or abusing them. We have created this guide to help you understand ways of keeping yourself and your family safe during the COVID-19 crisis.
The NHS website can provide specific information and guidance about coronavirus.
Below is a list of tips to help you manage your situation, including resources for further support and guidance. Remember that you are the only person who completely understands your situation – only implement the advice that feels relevant, if and when you feel safe to do so.
If you or someone you know is experiencing an emergency, do not hesitate to call 999.
- If possible, keep a mobile phone with you at all times. The police are your key service when in immediate danger – contact 999 if you are facing an emergency.
- Be aware of the Silent Solution System if you are at risk of being overheard contacting the police. When dialling 999, the operator will ask which service you require. If you stay silent because you cannot respond, there will be an automated message where you will be asked to dial 55 to signal that you are in danger. You can do this, and your call will be transferred to the police force as an emergency case.
- The app Hollie Gazzard turns your phone into a personal safety device which you can use to alert an emergency contact, take video evidence of an incident, share your location, and optionally to sound an alarm to attract attention.
- Consider where you will go if you need to leave in an emergency – remember shops, cafes etc. will be closed.
- Have a bag packed and ready, and leave this at a trusted person’s home if possible. It should contain:
- Medical essentials
- Identification – passport, driving licence
- Essential clothes for yourself and your children
- Have a code word to signal to a trusted individual(s) that you are in danger and they need to contact the police for you. Teach this code to children who are old enough to understand.
- Consider a separate mobile phone that you could use to call for help – some services may be able to provide you with this.
- Use the fact that there are no online shopping slots as a reason to leave the house to go food shopping – use this time to call someone or speak to someone at the shop to get help.
- If someone is doing your shopping for you, you could write a note on a shopping list to ask for help.
- Consider whether there may be someone you could move in with, e.g. a vulnerable family member who will need support at this time. Remember that you will need to self-isolate away from the individual for a period once you move in.
- If self-isolation means that staying with friends or family isn’t an option, contact your Local Authority for information on your housing rights, or the Shelter website for housing advice.
- Acquiring a Domestic Violence Protection Order will remove a perpetrator from your home and prevent them from making contact with you for 28 days, and an Occupation Order removes an abuser’s right to reside in the family home. Rights of Women can provide further legal advice.
For more information about making a safety plan: Women’s Aid Safety Plan Handbook
Adapting your safety plan
- Due to the current pandemic, your safety plan may need to be adapted, or you may need to consider extending the number of people you inform about your situation. It is important to let people know if your abuser is living and self-isolating with you at this time, so that they can help you to consider your safety.
- Might self-isolation increase the risk of physical abuse, sexual violence or coercive control?
- If there is a typical pattern of abuse (e.g. at night, when children are/aren’t present), what could this mean for periods of self-isolation?
- Will your household income be affected, and will this impact your situation?
- Might the person’s drug or alcohol use patterns change, and what will this mean?
- Might there be cameras or listening devices in your home, or software tracking your internet use? How will this change the way you can access help?
- Do you have other supportive individuals in your life who you could also inform about your situation, to strengthen your support system – a co-worker, employer, neighbour, etc.?
- What are your options if you want to leave, or if you want the other person to leave your home?
- Call someone that you trust to inform them of your situation and your concerns.
- If you know there will be times that you will be alone or safe to talk, set up a regular check-in call time with someone you trust, so that you know you will be contacted on certain days/times and have a source of support outside of your home.
- Create a code word or phrase for text/phone to indicate that it isn’t safe for you to talk, or that you need the person to call the police for you.
- Community services may be temporarily suspended, but there are alternatives if this has left you feeling isolated.
- The phone app Bright Sky helps you to locate relevant services.
- If you need access to counselling, Supportline provide a telephone helpline and counselling via email, particularly for those who are isolated or at risk of abuse.
- Women’s Aid, a domestic abuse organisation, has a live chat every Monday-Friday from 10am-12pm, which may be particularly useful if it might be unsafe for you to make a phone call.
- Women’s Aid also have a Survivor’s Forum, an online resource for survivors to share their experiences of domestic abuse and offer support and advice to others.
- If you need support in looking after your children whilst isolating, Family Lives provides support and online forums of other parents.
- Dealing with the ‘new normal’ is a daunting feat for everyone.
- There are many online classes for exercise, art and other activities that you could use to lift your mood.
- Maintaining your usual routines of sleep, food, exercise and hygiene will help to improve your mental health.
- Try to regularly walk around any outside space you have access to – this will help to avoid feeling ‘cooped up’.
- Since child contact can be a point of coercive control, COVID-19 may provide additional opportunities for an abuser to control you further.
- Government advice states that children living between two homes does count as ‘essential travel’, but this does not mean that children must travel between two homes.
- Parents are free to temporarily vary the terms of any court child arrangement order in light of the pandemic. Keep written evidence of any such agreement – text, email etc. The courts will expect alternative arrangements such as video calls to be made.
- Most refuges cannot accommodate pets, but specialist pet fostering services including the Dogs Trust Freedom Project and Paws Protect can ensure they are loved and cared for until you can be reunited.
- If you are not in the catchment areas for these services, they will be able to give advice on another solution near you.
- The NHS have confirmed there will be no financial cost to anyone requiring treatment or testing for coronavirus, regardless of immigration status – so seek healthcare if you need it.
- If English is not your first language, you can access information about coronavirus in 43 different languages here.
- If your immigration status is being used against you, Immigration Advice will provide guidance on immigration, nationality and asylum.
- Economic abuse may increase during this time, particularly if your abuser’s income is affected. Surviving Economic Abuse provides information and help surrounding issues of economic abuse.
- If you are concerned about your financial situation during the pandemic, contact Turn2us for help in accessing the money available to you in welfare benefits and grants.
If you are in immediate danger, call 999 and ask for the police.
24-hour free helplines for domestic abuse, forced marriage and sexual violence:
England: 0808 2000 247
Scotland: 0800 027 1234
N. Ireland: 0808 802 1414
Wales: 0800 80 10 800
Other useful contacts:
Victim Support National 24-hour Supportline: 0808 1689 111
LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0800 999 5428 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Men’s Advice Line: 0808 801 0327 / email@example.com
Karma Nirvana for honour-based abuse and forced marriage: 0800 5999 247
Shelter Emergency Helpline: 0808 800 4444