Fears that domestic abuse could get worse in Wiltshire as Covid crisis deepens

Police and support workers fear a rise in domestic abuse during another six months lived in the shadow of coronavirus.

With more people expected to lose their jobs as the furlough scheme comes to an end, there are concerns that more families could be subjected to bullying, controlling behaviour and violence at home.

SWA chief executive Emma Rawlings told the Adver her charity, which runs a refuge in Swindon and a 24-hour helpline covering the whole of Wiltshire, had seen a rise in referrals since children went back to school.

Det Supt Ben Mant, Wiltshire Police’s head of public protection, said: “Our experience of lockdown so far is that we saw an increase during the period when we were properly locked down.

“We’re in a slightly different period now. People aren’t confined to their houses in the way they were. We recognise there are different pressures.

“What we’re concerned about is that as we start to see the impact of covid we’re likely to see job losses and financial hardship in families.

“We and our partners recognise that can be an extra pressure that can contribute to abuse.

“We’re expecting it to increase; for domestic abuse reporting to increase into Autumn.”

Rise in reports

At the start of the lockdown in the spring, SWA saw more calls from younger women, as new couples struggled to adjust to living together.

There was then a quieter period, which bosses suggest was a result of abusers taking advantage of the fact their victims were less able to get out the house and approach others for help.

However, calls rose in the early summer as the schools went back. In June and July, calls to the SWA helpline were up 30 per cent on the previous year, while referrals to the charity’s services were up 63 per cent.

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Emma Rawlings of SWA

In September, an EastEnders storyline about domestic abuse that ended in the sickening murder of character Chantelle Atkins at the hands of her husband Gray resulted in a spike in calls to the SWA helpline.

Ms Rawlings, chief executive of SWA, formerly known as Swindon Women’s Aid, urged anyone who had experienced domestic abuse to seek support. She stressed that abuse came in many forms, ranging from physical and psychological to financial abuse or efforts to control a partner’s life in other ways. SWA was led by what the victim wanted, she said, acknowledging there might be a misconception that people would have to leave their home and stay at the charity’s refuge.

Police campaign

Last week, the mother of a Melksham woman whose partner tried to suffocate her with a plastic bag and pillow spoke out in support of a police campaign to tackle domestic abuse.

Louise Carr’s daughter Cara Bryant was tormented by self-described prankster Edward Rudd. The former company director was caged for 11-and-a-half years this month after being found guilty of attempted murder.

“I wish I could have done more for my daughter,” Ms Carr said.

“If I can help somebody else in a domestic abuse situation or stop one person from suffering like Cara did then it’s worth supporting the police campaign.

“My message is, if you are in a physical or psychologically damaging relationship, get help to get out. Help that is available through the police or the number of charities which are there for you. Don’t suffer in silence.”

Angus Macpherson, Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “If you are in an abusive relationship or know of someone who is, please reach out for help.”

Here’s where to go for support

If you want to speak to someone about domestic abuse, SWA is a good place to start.

The charity, formerly known as Swindon Women’s Aid, runs a dedicated 24-hour phone helpline: 01793 610 610.

This is also the out-of-hours helpline for the Wiltshire domestic abuse charity Splitz, which is responsible for running support services in the wider county.

The organisation stresses it is non-judgemental and supports women to make their own decisions.

SWA can also be contacted online via its website, www.swadomesticabuse.org.

The organisation also runs drop-in sessions at the following Swindon GP surgeries:

  • Tuesdays: Abbey Meads Medical Group (9am-11am) and Westrop Surgery (9am-11am)
  • Wednesdays: Lawn Medical Centre (9am-11am) and Hawthorn Medical Centre (1pm-2.30pm)
  • Thursdays: Kingswood Surgery (1pm–4pm) and Taw Hill Medical Practice (1pm-3pm)
  • Fridays: (Priory Road Medical Centre (9am-11am), Moredon Medical Centre (12pm-2pm) and Ashington House Surgery (1.30-2.30pm)

In an emergency, call Wiltshire Police on 999 or 101.

Those suffering from domestic abuse who need support getting to a refuge can also claim free train travel to that place of safety. The scheme – called Rail to Refuge – is managed by Women’s Aid. In order to claim free travel the person will need a confirmed refuge place. For more, visit: www.womensaid.org.uk/rail-to-refuge-faqs.

To support SWA’s work, you can make a donation via the charity’s website www.swadomesticabuse.org.

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