The home secretary has launched a new campaign telling people experiencing domestic abuse or who are at risk of it during the coronavirus lockdown that help is available to them.
Speaking for the first time at a government daily briefing on the virus, Priti Patel said the Home Office is working with charities to provide an extra £2m for domestic abuse helplines and online support.
There has been a 25% rise in phone calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline in the lockdown, according to the support charity Refuge.
The organisation reported the increase in calls during the week beginning 30 March, seven days after Prime Minister Boris Johnson introduced significant restrictions on the movement of people in the UK.
Refuge also said visits to their website, nationaldahelpline.org.uk, in that same period had gone up by 150% compared with the last week in February.
The campaign, using the social media hashtag #YouAreNotAlone, aims to reassure those affected by domestic abuse that support services remain available during this difficult time.
It will also encourage members of the public to show support for victims by sharing government digital content or a photo of a heart on their palm.
Ms Patel said: “Coronavirus has opened Britain’s enormous heart and shown our love and compassion for one another as we come together to help those most in need.
“I am now asking this nation to use that amazing compassion and community spirit to embrace those trapped in the horrific cycle of abuse.
“And to help us all look out for those who need help, we have created a symbol of hope – a handprint with a heart on – so that people can easily show that we will not tolerate abuse as a society, and that we stand in solidarity with victims of domestic abuse.”
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The chief executive of Refuge, Sandra Horley, has said self-isolation has the potential to “aggravate pre-existing abuse behaviours” by abusers.
“While in lockdown or self-isolation, women and children are likely to be spending concentrated periods of time with perpetrators, potentially escalating the threat of domestic abuse and further restricting their freedom.”
She also said: “What is needed now, more than ever, is to ensure every woman experiencing domestic abuse is aware of the confidential support available.
“We hope the Government’s campaign will reach the tens of thousands of people experiencing domestic abuse, helping send the message – you are not alone.”
Ms Patel’s announcement follows Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s £750m boost to the charity sector, which will benefit domestic abuse charities, to support the most vulnerable in our society.
The funding will support charities providing key services and supporting vulnerable people during the COVID-19 crisis.
:: The freephone 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline number is 0808 2000 247.