Domestic abuse is the most prevalent crime type impacting families across the UK. Lisa King, Refuge shares information on how to spot the signs that you or someone you know may be experiencing domestic abuse and where to go for help.

One in four women will experience domestic abuse at some point in their lives. And for some women, it can be a terrifying reality during pregnancy. While expecting a child can be a time of great happiness and joy, sadly it can also be a time where domestic abuse can get worse, or even starts for the first time. Previous reports indicate nearly one in three women who suffer from domestic abuse during their lifetime report that the first incidence happened while they were pregnant.

Increase in domestic abuse as a result of the pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a spike in domestic abuse incidents and an increase in demand for support services. There was an average of 13,162 calls and messages to Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse helpline every month between April 2020 and February 2021. That is up more than 60% on the average number of monthly contacts at the start of 2020. What’s more, as lockdown restrictions start to ease once more, and as women start to think about leaving their partner, this is often the most dangerous time for victims and when most homicides occur.

Given this backdrop, it is more important than ever for everyone to be vigilant to the signs of domestic abuse and be aware of the support that is available.

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If you are worried about someone who may be experiencing domestic abuse there are signs you can look out for:

• Being withdrawn, or being isolated from family and friends
• Having a partner who is jealous and possessive
• Having finances controlled, or not being given enough to buy food or pay bills
• Not being allowed to leave the house, or having to constantly check in with their partner
• Do they discuss being repeatedly belittled, put down or told they are worthless?
• Do they have bruises, burns or bite marks, or seem to wear clothes that don’t fit the weather (i.e. long sleeve shirts and sweaters to hide marks)?
• Do they mention being pressured into sex?
• Are they constantly checking their phone or receiving a barrage of messages from their partner when they aren’t with them?

The above are all signs of someone experiencing domestic abuse – but put at its most simple, if a friend or loved one changes their behaviour because they are scared of their partner’s reaction; this is domestic abuse.

It’s important to remember that domestic abuse happens in lots of different ways. Many people still think of domestic abuse as broken bones and black eyes – but it’s much broader than that and includes any way in which someone is ‘coerced’ into doing something. Domestic abuse can also taking many other forms including psychological, emotional, economic, online and sexual abuse. Domestic abuse is all about one person having power and control over another person.

If you are concerned for a friend, family member or neighbour, find a safe time to speak to them and ask them how they are and that you’ve noticed they’ve changed their behaviour and that you’re there to support them. They may not be ready to talk but knowing you are there for them can make a huge difference. When they do want to talk, listen, support and take care not to blame them or judge them in any way – and be ready to provide information on where they can find support.

If you are concerned for yourself or a friend or family member, there are several places you can go for help.

If you’re reading this and you are pregnant or a new mother and you are being abused – please remember you are not alone. Reaching out is a brave and courageous first step. You can speak in confidence to your GP, midwife, obstetrician, health visitor or social worker.

If you are in immediate danger, you should call 999 and ask for the police. If you are unable to talk on the phone, call 999 and listen to the questions from the operator and, if you can, respond by coughing or tapping on the handset or if you are calling from a mobile, press 55 when prompted to make yourself heard and this will transfer your call to the police.

You can also access support from:
• The 24-hour freephone National Domestic Abuse Helpline, run by Refuge – call 0808 2000 247 for free confidential support
• Refuge’s live chat service 3-10 pm Monday-Friday www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk
Refuge – find out more about the services available for women and children
Women’s Aid – find your local service for help in your area
• If you identify as LGBT+ you can call Galop on 0800 999 5428 for emotional and practical support
• You can also find help and support at gov.uk/domestic-abuse.

Remember, domestic abuse is a crime. Support is available, you are not alone.

The article was written by By Lisa King Director of Communications at Refuge 

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