Shonagh Dillon, CEO of Portsmouth-based charity Aurora New Dawn, talks to Sarah Cheverton about how the virus is increasing danger for victims, and how already under-funded organisations like Aurora are changing the way they work in order to protect them.
Sarah: There’s been a lot of media concern about the increased risk for victims of DV in lockdown with violent perpetrators. Is there evidence of this happening already?
Shonagh: There is evidence that there is an increase in risk for victims in lockdown with their abusive partners (see here for examples in France, Australia, and Asia-Pacific). Perpetrators exert power and control over their partners all the time, isolation is a key tactic of abusers anyway, so the fact they are now state-sanctioned and able to use self-isolation as a weapon increases the risk to victims.
Obviously we have seen an increase in domestic homicides in the first two weeks of lockdown and this is an incredibly worrying trend.
Yes. Karen Ingala Smith, chief executive of domestic abuse charity Nia and founder of the Counting Dead Women project, told the Guardian recently that initial analysis of her data suggested there had been ‘a higher rate of killings in the last few weeks’. This includes a case in South Wales reported as the ‘UK’s first self-isolation murder‘ (see image below) and another case near Cambridge, also reported in relation to the virus and the lockdown.
What is imperative is that the media stop reporting domestic abuse being a symptom of COVID-19. Men who kill their partners didn’t do this because of COVID-19, they were already abusive. They just took their opportunity when they could.
How is Aurora coping with the lockdown? What does it mean for your services and staff, as well as the victims you work with?
I’ve been really proud of the way my team have adapted. We are all working virtually and still reaching our clients as well as taking new referrals. Victims are reaching out where they can and we are adding information to safety plans and working with them closely to make sure they are all ok. We have set up a hotline for the police to refer to our skilled advocates and this is available to the police 24/7, so victims are able to speak to specialist independent workers if they want to. We also have a slot dedicated to legal advice and have been awarded a grant from the Treebeard Trust to support victims fleeing if they wish to.
Obviously one of our main concerns is not seeing as many victims and surivors face to face at the moment, but our plans are assessed daily and we will always adapt to need. We are key workers for a reason and if we need to see people face to face in the future for their safety, we of course will do this. It is a dynamic situation but one that the VAW (Violence Against Women) sector is very good at managing. We work in crisis and we work in covert ways already. The creative way that advocates work has been of such a benefit to me as a CEO. They will always find a way of making things work to support victims and survivors.
What are the main challenges for women’s charities right now?
Funding! We were already under-resourced and we know that the increase in violence will occur now and even more when the lockdown is lifted. Frontline services across the spectrum of provision need to access the funding directly as it comes down to local areas. We will need to double our efforts for a full year and we need funding to sustain that effort.
What advice can you give to someone in Portsmouth who finds themself in lockdown with a violent or abusive perpetrator?
Reach out. We are here. We will work with you. We believe you. Our social media is open if that is an easy way to access us. Just get in touch.
Update: Since this interview took place, Aurora New Dawn, supported by the You Trust, have launched a helpline for victims and survivors of domestic violence in Hampshire. The number is 02394 216816 and runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
For more information about Aurora, visit their website, Facebook and Twitter. You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.