DVA safety planning during COVID-19 FLIC is one of seven specialist charities participating in The WiSER Project, a specialist service to support women who are facing violence against women and girls (VAWG) and who have experienced severe and multiple disadvantages. Abuse can happen to anyone regardless of their gender or sexuality. However, the term gender-based violence is an umbrella term for many forms of abuse and violence which disproportionately targets those who identify as women and girls. Two women a week are killed in the UK from a current or former partner (Refuge) and one of the most common types of gender-based violence is domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are ex or current intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. It’s a common misconception that domestic abuse is ‘just’ physical abuse. As well as physical abuse, domestic abuse also includes (but is not limited to) sexual abuse, emotional abuse, economic abuse, psychological abuse and controlling and coercive behavior. All are completely unacceptable. Here is Safe Live’s definition of domestic abuse. Perpetrators of abuse will often give reasons to excuse their abuse, but abuse is always inexcusable, it cannot be justified. At the center of domestic abuse there is usually a dynamic of power and control, where the perpetrator will obtain power and control over the person(s) they are abusing by using tactics of abuse (such as emotionally abusing them to decrease the survivor’s self-esteem to make them more dependent on the abuser). In an abusive relationship there will usually be an imbalance of power, where one person may feel they have to follow the rules of the other person to avoid repercussions/punishment. DVA safety planning When looking at domestic abuse, it’s essential to examine the potential risks: For example, the alleged perpetrator could find the survivor’s new address (after she has moved to flee abuse) and will continue to abuse and harass her. Safety planning is guidance that can be used, by both survivors and services, to try to reduce risks both before, during and after abuse has occurred. Survivors of abuse are often highly resilient and have found their own ways to survive their abusive situation. They have naturally developed coping mechanisms and strategies to keep them safe. For this reason, a safety plan should be tailor-made to a person’s situation and should consider what the survivor knows could work best for them. Although safety planning aims to reduce the risk, we must always remember that, no matter what anyone else does to try and reduce the risks of domestic abuse, we cannot control a perpetrator’s behavior. A perpetrator’s actions are their responsibility and nobody else’s. Safety measures can range from always having a phone that’s fully charged, to identifying which 24-hour shops are nearby and could offer refuge. Safety planning will look different for different scenarios and situation & needs to be personalised to the individual. For example, it wouldn’t make sense for a survivor who is rough sleeping to detail what to do if ‘feeling unsafe indoors’. Instead, their safety plan would encourage her to identify safe places in the areas in which she spends her time - for example, identifying shops that are open late. Services/people supporting survivors should regularly check-in with survivors about their safety planning (privately where others cannot hear) to keep it fresh in the survivor’s mind and to adapt it where necessary. It is good practise for services to work together when safety planning, to ensure that there is a shared and consistent approach. Here are some examples of safety planning guidance for survivors. Context to DVA safety planning during Covid-19 crisis Sadly, it has been no surprise that there has been a significant escalation of domestic abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic. Government guidelines regarding COVID-19 , especially regarding lockdown and self-isolation have inadvertently meant that many survivors have had to spend an increased amount of time inside, often with the person causing them harm. Understandably, many services supporting survivors have had to adapt, or reduce, the services they offer in order to follow government COVID-19 guidelines e.g. offering telephone support instead of face to face support. All of this may increase the physical and emotional isolation faced by survivors. As mentioned earlier, power and control is a huge part of domestic abuse. Perpetrators may use the pandemic as an opportunity to try to creatively exert further control over survivors. They may have more ability to control someone by blocking their communication with others (especially if this is via telephone) and more ability to keep them indoors (if they are not street homeless), and use social distancing as an excuse to prevent them from seeing other people. They may have more time to monitor a survivor’s movements and actions. Perpetrators of abuse will often take things out on the survivor and wrongly blame them for factors the perpetrator is unhappy with, i.e. the impact of the pandemic may trigger further abuse and violence. It must always be borne in mind that the safety of survivors and their children is of the utmost importance. If they need to leave their accommodation to flee abuse they should always do so, regardless of the government guidelines for COVID-19. If you or someone you know is affected by domestic abuse, you are not alone and can always call the National Domestic Violence Helpline at anytime on 0808 2000 247. To address the heightened risk of sexual and domestic abuse within homeless settings during COVID-19, FLIC worked in partnership with St Mungo's, Standing Together, and Homeless Link to create guidance for staff in homeless settings. You can find it here. For more domestic abuse safety planning guidance during COVID-19 please take a look at Safe Lives’ guidance.