Domestic Abuse: Responding to the Shadow Pandemic

Lead Research Organisation: University of Liverpool
Department Name: Sch of Law and Social Justice


The eradication of violence against women is a global aim (UN SDG 16). Globally, pandemics notwithstanding, domestic abuse costs around$4.4 trillion a year or just over 5% of the annual global GDP (Hoeffler and Fearon 2014). In the UK domestic abuse-related crime routinely constitutes about a tenth of all the crimes recorded by the police and a third of all crimes recorded where there is an assault with injury (HMIC 2015). More than half of the calls to police are repeat complaints of violence against women (ONS 2018). Efforts to address domestic abuse notwithstanding it is evident that government restrictions on mobility and the necessity for social isolation during the COVID 19 pandemic have exacerbated violence against women in ways which are not yet fully understood.

Under lockdown considerable media coverage has intimated the likely impact of the 'stay at home' directive on the nature and extent of domestic abuse. Evidence suggests that this has already taken its toll on the rates of intimate partner homicide (Ingala Smith 2020). Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, has stated that confinement is fostering tension and strain created by security, health and money worries; and is increasing isolation for women with violent partners. She described the situation as "a perfect storm for controlling, violent behaviour behind closed doors." UN Women (2020) naming the gendered consequences of COVID 19 isolation restrictions as 'The Shadow Pandemic'.

Media coverage of interventions from NGOs suggest increased demands on services. There was an increase of 49% in domestic abuse reports to police forces immediately preceding the social isolation period (17th April 2020, Guardian); and the Home Affairs Committee Preparedness for Covid-19 reported on 24th April 2020 that responding to the rise in violence is being further complicated by the fact the institutions are already under a huge strain from the demands of dealing with the pandemic itself. Many forces report difficulty in maintaining sufficient numbers of personnel to carry out policing functions. Similarly, the criminal courts have struggled to maintain services. Most courts have been closed during the continuing social isolation period, and those that are open have prioritised bail and remand decisions (including many who are alleged to have committed acts of domestic violence); and continue to try cases and sentence serious acts of violence. The number of trials which have not taken place pose considerable questions about speedy access to justice and, as a result the experiences of domestic violence victims in the system. To date, media coverage aside, there is little systematic documentation and/or evidence addressing how the criminal justice system (particularly the police and courts) are managing and responding to the nature and extent of domestic abuse during the social isolation period. This project is therefore concerned with the challenges posed for criminal justice practitioners by lockdown, the policy innovations put in place in response to these circumstances, the potential learning opportunities for practice that might ensue, and how victims of domestic violence secured or did not secure access to justice. The rapid response methods employed will ensure that recommendations are given to CJS agencies within a very short period of time, and these will enable better justice for victims of domestic abuse.


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