Abusers use coronavirus isolation to gain power… I would be dead by now, says survivor Roxy – The Sun

IT is only 11am and SupportLine’s inbox is already filling up.

An email drops from ­Lauren, a woman in her fifties, who is in shock.

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Last night, she was attacked by her partner — a horrifying first that left her shaken and scared, trapped in her home.

Her partner has been emotionally and verbally abusive before. But now it has turned physical. Losing his job while in lockdown has “tipped him over the edge”, she writes.

Due to the ongoing crisis, she has been unable to get out of the house to seek ­support. She is anxious her situation will escalate further. And her situation is far from unique. As we read her email, another five appear — making similar pleas for help.

As families across the country stay home to keep safe from Covid-19, for women in abusive relationships those four walls feel like a prison. Domestic Abuse charity ­Refuge reports a 25 per cent rise in calls to its helpline since lockdown began in March.

Avon and Somerset Police, meanwhile, say domestic abuse incidents rose 21 per cent in the first two weeks of lockdown. Many women are now isolated with their abuser, unable to escape or find respite.

Charities have taken their helplines and meetings online but getting in contact is difficult when abusive partners often monitor their victim’s every move.

A spokesman for Women’s Aid says: “Perpetrators of abuse may use restrictions due to Covid-19 to exercise power and control over their partners — further reducing their access to services, help and support from formal and informal networks."

“They might do things like restrict access to necessary items such as soap and hand sanitiser, or exert control by spreading misinformation about the disease to confuse and worry partners.”


WOMEN’S Aid has this advice for victims and their families:

  • Always keep your phone nearby.
  • Get in touch with charities for help, including the Women’s Aid live chat helpline and services such as SupportLine.
  • If you are in danger, call 999.
  •  Familiarise yourself with the Silent Solution, reporting abuse without speaking down the phone, instead dialing “55”.
  •  Always keep some money on you, including change for a pay phone or bus fare.
  • If you suspect your partner is about to attack you, try to go to a lower-risk area of the house – for example, where there is a way out and access to a telephone.
  •  Avoid the kitchen and garage, where there are likely to be knives or other weapons. Avoid rooms where you might become trapped, such as the bathroom, or where you might be shut into a cupboard or other small space.


SupportLine is a national helpline for those at risk of any form of abuse. Over a period of 24 hours, its team gave us a chilling insight into the scale of abuse behind closed doors.

The next call comes from Sarah, a woman in her ­twenties who managed to phone while alone on her designated walk of the day.

Her partner has been abusive before, is becoming more ­agitated due to staying inside and is increasingly taking out his aggression on her. Sarah is concerned not just for her own wellbeing but the safety of her three children.

Previously, she could stay ­elsewhere when “things got bad”. But now she feels trapped. SupportLine staff talk through her fears and advise Sarah to keep a mobile phone close by at all times — and to contact the police immediately if the situation escalates.

Sarah, who grew noticeably calmer during the call, feels reassured she has the support of those at the end of the line. But the situation for women like her is graver than ever with the imposed lockdown.

Sarah Davidge, of Women’s Aid, says: “If you live with an abuser, home is not a place of safety. Women will be in lockdown with their abuser, unable to get any breathing space."

"It will be harder to text or phone to get support. Child survivors no longer have the respite of school or nursery, which can often be a safe pace to access help.” It is not uncommon for periods of social isolation, such as Christmas, to worsen cases of domestic abuse.

Roxy Freebury, 23, from ­Newport, Gwent, is a survivor of domestic abuse who believes she would not have lived through the lockdown in her violent previous relationship.


The nursery worker says: “When Britain went into ­lockdown, my heart went out to all the women and men living in abusive relationships. As a former victim, I know how perpetrators use isolation as a way of gaining power."

“I met my ex-partner John* in March 2018. As soon as we had our own flat, things dramatically changed. He slowly stopped me seeing my family and became increasingly aggressive."

“During winter weekends, when it was snowing and people weren’t going out, he would be agitated with everything I did and, in such a small space, the violence came easily. Christmas is another example."

"Everyone is at home with their families for a week or so and victims are often stuck inside with the abuser at a time of increased alcohol consumption and financial struggles and there isn’t anywhere for them to go to find an outlet for their anger. So they take it out on their partners.”


IF you are a ­victim of domestic abuse, SupportLine is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 6pm to 8pm on 01708 765200. The charity’s email support ­service is open weekdays and weekends during the crisis – message [email protected].
Women’s Aid provides a live chat service available at chat.womensaid. org.uk.
Due to limited funding, it is open from 10am to noon.
You can also call the freephone 24-hour ­National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247.
See refuge.org.uk.

On December 28, 2018, life for Roxy changed as the ­violence peaked. She says: “We were in bed when a friend from work texted me and my ex flew into a rage. He beat me so hard I could barely breathe — punches to my face, knees, to my ribs and he repeatedly tried to choke me."

“He ripped out my hair and smashed my head on the floor. It was only when he stopped to catch his breath that I managed to run out on to the street and flag down help from a neighbour outside, who bundled me into their car and called the police."

“My ex was charged with assault by beating on March 6, 2019, and given a 12-month community service order, a restraining order and had to pay me £200. That is nothing for the damage he caused.”

The authorities are aware of potential damage lockdown could do. Last week the Government announced domestic abuse services in the UK will receive an extra £2million, alongside the Home Office’s new support campaign during the coronavirus lockdown.

Priti Patel launched the You Are Not Alone initiative in which people are encouraged to share a photo of a heart on their palm on social media with the hashtag #YouAreNotAlone. Other ­countries in lockdown are facing a similar rise in abuse cases.

The French government said it would pay for hotel rooms for victims of domestic violence after cases rose 36 per cent in Paris during lockdown week one. In China’s Hubei province — the one-time centre of the ­coronavirus outbreak — domestic violence calls to police tripled.

Spain has a scheme that sees women visit pharmacies and request “Mask 19” — a codeword alerting the pharmacist to call the authorities and report domestic abuse. Women’s Aid says such initiatives are vital.

Sarah Davidge, of the charity, adds: “We have been telling women to familiarise themselves with the Silent Solution. This is a system for ­victims of domestic abuse who might be afraid of further danger if they are overheard calling 999."


"If you need to call 999 on a mobile, an operator will ask which emergency service is required. If you are not able to ask for help, your call will be forwarded to a police system. If you then press 55, the ­system will transfer the call to the relevant police force, who can arrange for help.”

The helplessness of victims’ families is made all too clear in a call to SupportLine at 7.15pm. It is from David, a man in his seventies. He has called because he is extremely concerned about his daughter who is living with an abusive partner.

He is angry that he can no longer visit her to check on her situation and tells staff he feels at a loss. He knows her local support group has closed due to the lockdown and is worried for her safety because online services cannot replicate the work of one-to-one contact.

It is heartbreaking to hear a dad so frightened for the safety of his daughter. SupportLine urges him to use video calls to make regular ­contact with her so he can see his daughter and send a clear message to the abusive partner that ­people are checking in on her wellbeing.


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He is told he should tell his daughter to keep her phone close at hand and call 999 if she ever feels her life is in danger. Sarah adds: “Three women are murdered by their partner or ex-partner every fortnight in England and Wales."

“With reported domestic abuse cases rising worldwide during the ­pandemic, there is a real risk that murders may rise further. It is critical to remember, however, that Covid-19 will not CAUSE domestic homicides."

“Only abusers are responsible for their appalling actions. The pandemic does, however, threaten to escalate abuse and close down routes to safety for women to escape.”

*Names of all those who contacted support agencies have been changed

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