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Abusive men are using coronavirus as an excuse for domestic violence, campaigners have warned as horrifying new figures reveal men are killing women and girls at a rate of almost one a day since lockdown began.
Campaigners have also criticised the “lazy reporting” surrounding the deaths of women in recent weeks, arguing that coronavirus “hasn’t created more killers – it’s violent men who are to blame”.
According to the Counting Dead Women project, which identifies UK women killed by men or where a man is the principal suspect, there have been 18 suspected domestic abuse killings of females in 21 days at the hands of men since the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions were introduced in the UK.
The figure represents a doubling of the average rate of deaths and highlights the extreme danger faced by women trapped in the same house as their violent person.
The killings took place between March 23 and April 12.
Karen Ingala Smith, founder of Counting Dead Women, told HuffPost UK that data collated over the last decade suggest a woman has been killed every four days by a partner or former partner.
At this rate, Smith says the expected number of women killed by men in 21 days would be seven – but instead she revealed 16 females - including two children - are suspected to have been killed by men in the first three weeks of the coronavirus lockdown. She has information on two other dead women where men have been arrested but not yet charged.
The ages of the victims range from two to 82. The alleged perpetrators where known are mainly husbands but also include a father and a grandson.
But Smith highlighted to HuffPost UK that coronavirus hasn’t created more killers and she is angered at the way many headlines have excused the behaviour of violent men by blaming the virus.
“Coronavirus hasn’t suddenly created more killers.” she said. “It’s violent men who are to blame, not the virus.
“It is the conditions around us that have changed due to coronavirus and this has resulted in more triggers to men’s violence – although I prefer to call them excuses.”
Smith says she has been frustrated by what she calls the “lazy reporting” of some of the cases where it has been suggested the deaths of the women were caused by the men being “pushed to violence” as a result of coronavirus pressures.
She said: “One man who had killed his partner claimed he had killed her as she told him to leave the house as he had symptoms of coronavirus.
“Another report about a man’s fatal violence told how he had been pushed to kill as he had financial concerns and was worried about his business drying up.
“It is ridiculous to blame these killings on coronavirus by making out it is the virus at fault when it is actually the men.
“Men’s controlling behaviour is the reason behind these killings. It is their domineering behaviour, their sense of entitlement and their belief that they need to be controlling and that women are there to serve them which is to blame.
“We need to look at all the reasons why men feel they have the right to treat women like this.
“There has been a sharp rise in deaths, but not an increase in the number of abusive men. For an unhealthy relationship to become an abusive one takes an abusive person.”
Smith says that while the lockdown might restrict women’s ability to escape or access to support, and might even curtail measures some men take to keep their violence under control, it doesn’t make a killer out of a man who has never been controlling, abusive or violent to the woman he is in a relationship with.
She says that while the number of women killed by men in the three weeks since lockdown is the highest it has been for at least 10 years compared to a hypothetical 21 days over the last decade, it is important to be cautious about the increase as there are always times when numbers are higher or lower.
“Although it is early days, this increase is extremely worrying.” she told HuffPost UK. “It shows the level of abuse that women are living with from men, the severity of that abuse and that we urgently need to end this violence.
“However, it is a worry to me whether there is a lockdown or not. I am alarmed at the women who have been killed during the first three weeks of the coronavirus lockdown – but I am equally worried about the seven women who would have been killed on an average week.
“These deaths are not normal or acceptable at any time.”
Smith says that while her work centres around counting dead women, she would never say it is only the dead women that count and is also deeply concerned about the women and children who will live through the coronavirus lockdown with an abuser and survive.
Women and girls are at an increased risk of all forms of abuse-based violence as they are trapped with their perpetrators and there is less scrutiny.” Jemima Olchawski, chief executive of Agenda
Jemima Olchawski, chief executive of Agenda, an alliance for women and girls at risk, says that while there has already been a spike in women seeking help and support from domestic abuse, she anticipates a bigger rise when lockdown measures end.
“Women and girls are at an increased risk of all forms of abuse-based violence as they are trapped with their perpetrators and there is less scrutiny,” she told HuffPost UK.
“The lockdown means people are spending more time together and where a perpetrator might have been going out to work or socialising, there will be more exposure and opportunities for abuse.
“The increasing pressures of the situation can see a relationship that was unhappy and unhealthy escalate into violence.
“There will also be increased opportunities for perpetrators to exert control whether that’s about leaving the house, financial control or enforcing certain behaviours.”
She added: “It’s important to point out that coronavirus and lockdown don’t cause abuse. Don’t blame the virus as perpetrators are responsible for their behaviour.”
Olchawski said the lockdown will be making it more difficult for women to seek help, particularly as many support organisations are under incredible pressure.
“It is difficult to even make a phone call when you are trapped in the same house as your abuser.
“The most disadvantaged women might not have access to a mobile phone or the internet and may only have been able to access face-to-face services which they can’t do at the moment.
“Support organisations are also under a lot of pressure. They were already in a very difficult funding environment and are now seeing falls in their income, an increase in demand and a necessity to change their working conditions.
“Although it is a very difficult time and the government and services are under great pressure, we need to prepare for plans after lockdown.
“Although we have already seen a spike in reporting, I think we will see a bigger one when women are eventually able to get away from their perpetrators and reach out to people they trust.
“At the moment, it is all happening behind closed doors but when these women have the freedom to access help and escape after lockdown, we need to make sure they are not abandoned.”
The victims’ commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird, says the increased death figures for women who have been killed by men are very troubling.
“People who are already trapped in coercively controlled relationships will be locked up together 24 hours a day and things are more likely to escalate into violence,” she said to HuffPost UK.
“The growing levels of tension and intensity might even see those with fraying relationships which are unhappy but not actually abusive possibly escalate into abuse due to proximity and monotony.”
She added: “No one is saying that coronavirus lockdown isn’t essential, because it is.
“However, all countries have seen an increase in domestic abuse during lockdown so we need to make sure there are strategies to protect people and we have to give people maximum opportunities to escape from this abuse.”
I think there should be emergency provision in supermarkets and pharmacies." Dame Vera Baird, victims’ commissioner for England and Wales
Dame Vera welcomed the fact that home secretary Priti Patel made it clear that those suffering domestic abuse should seek help and that services are open and it is a lawful reason to leave the house to escape an abusive relationship.
However, she has called for more places where women can seek emergency help.
“I think there should be emergency provision in supermarkets and pharmacies as a controlled person might still get sent out to do the shopping,” she said.
“Supermarket staff could be given basic training about what to do if someone came to them and either said they were in an abusive relationship or used a code word to highlight they need help.”
Helen Victoria, who lives in Birmingham, told HuffPost UK that she was involved in a highly abusive and controlling relationship between the ages of 15 and 23 and can understand what it must be like to be trapped in a home with an abusive partner.
The 31-year-old said for the first few years of the relationship, everything was fine. But life changed after they bought a house and moved in together when she was 19.
She described how it was the incidents of manipulation and control which were far worse than the huge rows.
I was controlled and manipulated and made to feel like I was crazy. I felt trapped in that house and as if I could not reach out to anyone.” Helen Victoria, Living Liberte
“It would start off with lots of questions and playing on my insecurities. If I was going out with friends, he would ask why I didn’t want to stay at home with him.
“I was training to be a dancer and he would question why I wanted to wear leotards and would say I was selfish and things like: ‘I thought you were a nice girl.’
“Once you put that element of doubt in someone’s mind, it is easier to further manipulate them.
“He knew me very well by that point and recognised the things that made me feel insecure such as my weight. If I put a spoonful of mayonnaise on my plate, he would raise an eyebrow and I would feel terrible.
“It took me a long time to be able to eat properly and not question myself even after the relationship ended.
“It is the little things that devalue you that stay with you and are worse than the big blow up rows.”
Helen said it is the manipulating and confusion that is the hardest thing to deal with in an abusive relationship and it takes a long time to recognise it is conditioning of your psyche and not love.
“He had financial control over me and wanted to know exactly what I was spending my money on. If I did something like move his phone from the table, he would give me Chinese burns.
“I was controlled and manipulated and made to feel like I was crazy. I felt trapped in that house and as if I could not reach out to anyone.”
Helen says she used to constantly search on the internet and type in the words: “Is it normal when he …?” She even searched for refuges and support groups but found they were aimed at people older than her.
Since leaving the abusive relationship, Helen had a lot of therapy and is now in a healthy relationship.
She now runs a social enterprise called Living Liberte in Birmingham that aims to prevent future domestic abuse by providing relationship education to young people.
Helen told HuffPost UK she has seen a rise of almost double in new enquiries for mentoring she offers through her social enterprise since lockdown began and has also been contacted by young women who are trapped in lockdown with abusers.
She said: “It is very common for victims to feel like it is all their fault and also to feel like they don’t want to lose someone they think they love.
“During the coronavirus situation, we need to be aware of people who are affected by abusive relationships.
“When there are so many people dying of the virus, some women may feel they can’t ask for help. This can leave people in very dangerous situations.
“I only survived my abusive relationship as I had outlets and went out dancing and was able to get out of the house.
“The idea of being on lockdown in the same house with nowhere to go would have been horrendous and my situation would have escalated very quickly.”
Home secretary Priti Patel launched a public awareness campaign to ensure those at risk of domestic abuse during the coronavirus lockdown know where to turn for help.
She also revealed talks were ongoing to provide charities with an additional £2m to bolster helplines and online support.
The National Domestic Abuse Helpline run by Refuge has reported a 25% increase in calls since lockdown began.
On the first Saturday following lockdown alone, the helpline saw a 65% increase in calls compared with the same day the previous week.
Many domestic abuse charities have also reported a surge in traffic to websites and online services since the lockdown conditions were imposed.
If you, or someone you know, is in immediate danger, call 999 and ask for the police. If you are not in immediate danger, you can contact:
- The Freephone 24 hour National Domestic Violence Helpline (run in partnership by Women’s Aid and Refuge): 0808 2000 247
- In Scotland, contact Scotland’s 24 hour Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline: 0800 027 1234
- In Northern Ireland, contact the 24 hour Domestic & Sexual Violence Helpline: 0808 802 1414
- In Wales, contact the 24 hour Life Fear Free Helpline on 0808 80 10 800.
- National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0800 999 5428
- Men’s Advice Line: 0808 801 0327
- Respect helpline (for anyone worried about their own behaviour): 0808 802 4040