Exclusive: Covid led to rise in women hospitalised by domestic abuse

Hospitals in England saw a rise in admissions of women suffering injuries from domestic abuse during the coronavirus pandemic, new figures obtained by NationalWorld suggest.

Women’s Aid says the findings may reflect an escalation of abuse during Covid, with perpetrators using lockdown restrictions to control, coerce and isolate their victims.

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NationalWorld revealed this week (6 April) how hundreds of women are hospitalised every year in Britain after being abused by their spouse or partner.

Now we can reveal that provisional data for 2020 provided by NHS Digital shows an increase in such admissions during the pandemic.

Between April and September 2019, between 193 and 241 admissions of female patients due to abuse by a partner were recorded.

But in the same six-month period in 2020 – after lockdown restrictions were first brought in in England – this had risen to between 243 and 261 admissions.

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The figures were provided by region and broken down into three-month periods. NHS Digital suppresses figures between one and seven to protect patient identities.

That means it is only possible to calculate a minimum and maximum range, based on whether every suppressed figure was a one or a seven. All other figures are rounded to the nearest five, so the estimates are not exact.

More complete national data shows there had already been a 23% increase in admissions between 2015-16 and 2019-20, from 368 to 453.

‘A difficult and dangerous time’

Nicole Jacobs, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales, said the Covid-19 pandemic had been “a particularly difficult and dangerous time for people subjected to domestic abuse”.

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“The effects will be felt long after the immediate public health emergency has passed,” she continued.

“Throughout the past year we have learnt how important it is for survivors to seek help discretely and safely, and the health system must also ‘reach in’ to support this."

The charity Women’s Aid said its research had shown the Covid-19 pandemic had led to an escalation of existing abuse.

But with specialist violence against women and girls’ services already facing a funding crisis pre-Covid, services had been left with no resilience for the pandemic which “severely impacted frontline women’s organisations”, it said.

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“Covid-19 does not cause domestic abuse – only abusers are responsible for their behaviour,” said Sarah Davidge, research and evaluation manager for the charity.

“However, we knew at the start of the first national lockdown that the pandemic would have a significant effect on women and children experiencing domestic abuse. 

“We expected to see perpetrators use the Covid-19 virus – and restrictions designed to control it – as tools for control and coercion, and that social isolation would also restrict access to support for women and children. 

“Our report ‘A Perfect Storm’ revealed that 61% of women living with the abuser reported worsening abuse and 67% of survivors experiencing abuse during the pandemic said that the abuser had used lockdown restrictions or the virus as part of the abuse. 

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“It is, therefore, possible that we are seeing this escalating abuse reflected in an increased number of ‘abuse by partner’ admissions to NHS trusts during the pandemic.”

‘An abhorrent crime’

Safeguarding Minister Victoria Atkins said the Government was “determined to protect victims and bring perpetrators to justice” with its impending Domestic Abuse Bill designed to “bolster our response to domestic abuse on every level”.

The Government will also bring forward the first standalone domestic abuse strategy this year, she added.

We have paid more than £27 million to domestic abuse organisations to date to help them to deal with the pandemic, including keeping helplines running and vital support services open – a crucial step in supporting victims to recover and rebuild their lives,” Ms Atkins said.

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“In addition, our Ask for Ani codeword scheme launched this year at 5,000 pharmacies and provides a discreet way for domestic abuse victims to signal that they need immediate help.

The Home Office’s #YouAreNotAlone campaign to raise awareness of domestic abuse and the support available has also reached 32 million UK adults, a spokesperson added.

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