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COVID-19 and support

Domestic abuse during COVID-19/coronavirus: what can I do?

Woman sitting on a sofa, holding her legs up and looking into the distance.

To mitigate the spread of Coronavirus, the government has introduce restrictions that affect how we usually live our lives. In many cases, we have had to move many of our activities to the home. However, we know that for some women and children home is not a safe or comfortable place, and for some, these measures could increase the risk of experiencing abuse.

In this fast changing situation, we understand you might have questions about what to do if you are experiencing domestic abuse. In this blog, we answer some common questions, including reporting to the police, where to get support, finding alternative accommodation and protections offered by the law.

1. Domestic abuse during social distancing and self-isolation

There are a number of ways in which domestic abuse can take place, and so it is important to remember that no two situations will look the same.

One way in which many women will experience domestic abuse is through coercive control, which is a pattern of behaviours that can be intimidating, controlling, threatening and overall emotionally abusive. We have heard from some women that abusive partners and ex-partners are using the coronavirus crisis as a way to continue the cycle of abuse.

Other kinds of domestic abuse include physical and sexual violence, stalking, and economic abuse. Scottish Women’s Aid have lots of examples for each form of abuse which can help you consider your own situation.

It is also vital to bear in mind that abuse of any kind is not always visible or obvious, but this doesn’t mean the abuse isn’t happening. We encourage you to seek help if you are worried about yourself or someone else. Below we have included some information to help you through this situation.

The current circumstances may make you feel like more than ever you are isolated or that the situation is out of your control. We want to highlight that there are many support organisations that remain open during this time and which are there to support you.

2. I need support. Are organisations able to help during coronavirus?

Yes. Many organisations have made adjustments to continue offering support to women and children experiencing domestic abuse and other forms of gender-based violence. We have compiled a list of services here with contact details during the coronavirus outbreak.

As a starting point, we recommend contacting one of the following two national services for crisis and practical support:

  • Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage helpline

Open 24/7

Call: 0800 027 1234
Email: helpline@sdafmh.org.uk
Web chat: sdafmh.org.uk

  • Rape Crisis Scotland

Open daily, 6 pm - midnight

Call: 08088 01 03 02
Text: 07537 410027
Email: support@rapecrisisscotland.org.uk

3. My partner/ex-partner/parent is being abusive, can I report him to the police?

Yes. If you feel you are in immediate danger, call the Police on 999.

During this pandemic, Police Scotland will continue to respond to and investigate reports of criminal activity, this includes domestic abuse and it covers any manifestation of this abuse (not just physical).

If you are not in immediate danger but would like to report domestic abuse, call the Police on 101 or 999. Alternatively, you can fill out Police Scotland’s online form, which you can also use to report stalking and harassment.

To know more about what the process is like when reporting and what rights you have, read our legal guide on reporting domestic abuse.

4. I’m thinking of leaving my partner now, what are my options?

Some women may consider that the safest option during this time is to leave their partner and find alternative living arrangements. The UK government has been clear that victims of domestic abuse can leave their home to find safety.

When leaving, please consider planning carefully to ensure you and your children are safe. It might be that you can stay with an acquaintance or family member. However, keep in mind the government’s social distancing and self-isolation guidance if you are thinking of moving in with a relative or friend.

Another option is a women’s refuge. Contact your nearest Scottish Women’s Aid group to find out about accessing refuge. You can also read more about what women’s refuges are here.

Again, your safety is very important and the Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage helpline can support you in making safety plans, including leaving the relationship.

If you want legal advice or information about your options, you can call our helpline, seek an appointment with one of our solicitors, or find a solicitor, many law firms are still working throughout this crisis.

If I have no recourse to public funds (NRPF), can I still access support?

Yes. Before coronavirus, women and children with NRPF could access refuge accommodation and other types of support and accommodation under certain circumstances. This still applies now.

However, in addition to the above, the UK government has issued guidance asking local authorities to assist people with NRPF in finding shelter and other support during the pandemic.

For more information about assisting NRPF women and children to access support, see here or local authorities can contact Migration Scotland for advice. We have also published some useful information for migrant women with NRPF who are experiencing abuse.

5. Can I still apply to court for protective orders against my abusive partner/ex-partner?

As a result of current restrictions, courts in Scotland have made changes to the way they operate at this time and they will only deal with urgent hearings.

What constitutes ‘urgent’ will have to be decided on a case-by-case basis. The court has specified the work they consider as ‘urgent', means that solicitors can still assist you in seeking urgent protective orders (such as interim interdicts) and any necessary and urgent orders related to child contact and residence.

Interim interdicts are a temporary court order that forbids your abuser from doing certain things. You can find out more about this on Shelter Scotland’s website.

Another option are exclusion orders, which we explain in detail here.

If you want more information or you would like to explore this and other options, please call our legal helpline to discuss your situation.

6. I left an abusive relationship and there are child contact arrangements in place, how can I comply with them during the pandemic?

This depends on the child contact arrangements in place and various factors. We have published answers to common questions around child contact here.

If you have questions about your specific situation, contact your solicitor if you already have one. Alternatively, you can call our legal helpline for information or advice.

7. My court case was ongoing before coronavirus, will it still go ahead?

This will depend on whether it is a criminal or civil court case, and whether it is urgent.

  • For criminal court cases (this includes cases where you reported domestic abuse to the police): at the beginning of the pandemic most jury trials were postponed, except for those already taking place and where social distancing was possible. In addition to dealing with urgent and essential business, criminal courts are now gradually resuming procedural hearing and jury trials. Where possible, hearings will take place virtually by Webex video conferencing system. You can find out more about Coronavirus related hygiene measures introduced for jury trials here.
  • For civil court cases (including family court cases, child contact hearings and applications for protective orders): At civil courts are still prioritising ‘urgent’ cases as well as dealing with the backlog of cases submitted during the pandemic. Some of the ‘urgent’ work being prioritised includes applications for orders which can be helpful in cases of violence against women and children.

If your case is ongoing, the best thing to do is to contact your solicitor or local Sheriff Court and find out what will happen with your case. You can also read our blog with updates on courts cases during the pandemic, visit Victim Support Scotland's website for up to date information on courts and changes related to coronavirus or contact us if you have further questions.

8. I still have questions. What can I do?

When it comes to domestic abuse, we understand that each situation is very different. If you have specific concerns about your situation and the legal options available, please get in touch with us.

At the Scottish Women’s Rights Centre we have daily helplines and legal surgeries available by video call or over the phone, and we can consider taking your case for legal representation.

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