New research highlights impact of pandemic on domestic violence survivors

Keele researchers are calling for more support for survivors of domestic abuse during Covid-19 lockdowns.

A new study by Dr Jane Krishnadas, from Keele’s School of Law, and PhD candidate Sophia Hayat Taha, has found that an increase in the exposure and reporting of domestic violence during the Covid-19 pandemic has meant that domestic abuse services have struggled to support survivors.

Since Covid-19 lockdowns began in March, domestic violence charity Refuge has reported that calls to their domestic abuse helpline are up by almost 50%, with visits to the charity’s website up by 950%.

Furthermore, the Community Legal Outreach Collaboration Keele (CLOCK) service has seen applications for support increase three-fold but has been unable to signpost all applicants to access legal representation due to restrictions on the legal aid means-test. The lack of access to legal aid means that domestic abuse survivors cannot seek protection within the home and creates more risk as they cannot access the local refuge in town which is already operating at full capacity.

In March, the UK government granted permission for sufferers of abuse to break lockdown to ‘flee the home’. However, this new research questions the effectiveness of this measure when lockdown has exposed a lack of public investment in support services, which meant that in many cases domestic abuse survivors who chose to leave home were unable to access refuge accommodation or be provided with legal aid.

The research, which draws upon Dr Krishnadas’s ‘Transformative Methodology’ for access to justice, was carried out as a result of the authors’ direct interventions through CLOCK and its partner organisations including the Staffordshire North and Stoke-on-Trent Citizen Advice Bureau’s Keeping Women Safe project, relationship abuse charity Glow, domestic abuse service New Era, and Lewis Rodgers Solicitors. The study is also based on recent national research conducted by Refuge Charity, Women's Aid, and Southall Black Sisters on the rise of reporting during the lockdown, the impact on survivors, and the importance of a community response.

It is hoped the research will evidence the need for increased resources in domestic violence services, refuge places, and a gender-just legal aid test for representation in family matters, in order to protect survivors from ongoing abuse even when they've left the home.

Dr Krishnadas, senior lecturer in law, said: “Covid-19 has exposed domestic violence as a public health issue, yet the government advice for ‘victims to leave their homes' has not been met with the required public investment or policy reform in the domestic violence services, or in legal aid to protect survivors and their children.

“This research questions whether the government should focus their policy on advising survivors to leave their home, or to address the underlying structural factors of access to legal aid to make the home a place of safety.”

Sophia Hayat Taha, PhD candidate in law and international relations, added: “Covid-19 has intensified the suffering of many domestic abuse survivors and a lack of investment by the state has meant support services are struggling to meet the needs of people who call upon them for help.

“The needs of vulnerable members of our society should be prioritised, with policy concentrating on listening to providers of domestic violence support groups, funding for community-based actions, and focusing on the voices of survivors. Policy that does not listen to services and survivors cannot tackle systemic issues such as precarious housing and under-funded public services.”