“I hope you fucking die,” a man shouted from within his home on a pleasant spring evening. Then a series of loud thuds, small whimpers and angry grunts came through the gap in the sash window.
As per Women’s Aid’s advice, I rang 999, and told the police call handler the details — what I’d heard, where those blood-curdling noises had come from and why they concerned me.
After the introduction of necessary measures to stop the spread of Covid-19, campaigners warned of a spike in domestic abuse. The current situation is horrific enough, as one in four women have been victims of domestic abuse and two a week are killed by male partners, exes or relatives. Over the past ten years, 13 times more women than men were killed by a partner or ex.
But three main factors have worsened the situation. First, being cooped up puts a strain on any relationship. Secondly, if victims follow the government’s rules to stay home, help the NHS and save lives, they’re trapped with someone who might very well want to end theirs. Thirdly, economic turmoil always correlates with an uptick in domestic violence and as the gears of our industries grind to a halt, very few of us can dodge the sparks flying.
In the past two weeks, eight women have been killed in so-called “isolated” incidents of suspected domestic violence. Women’s Aid have reported an increase in calls from victims, including those who are experiencing domestic violence for the first time.
This has to stop, we can all agree. And indeed, Home Secretary Priti Patel has informed the public that: “Whilst our advice is to stay at home, anyone who is at risk of, or experiencing, domestic abuse, is still able to leave and seek refuge. Refuges remain open, and the police will provide support to all individuals who are being abused — whether physically, emotionally, or otherwise.”
There are big questions Patel still needs to answer. Will the government provide more resources for refuges, perhaps, like France, acquiring space within otherwise empty hotels? Brimming refuges were turning away women and children before coronavirus even made human contact. Now, during social distancing, it’s harder to count on sofa-surfing offers from friends and family.
In the past two weeks, eight women have been killed in so-called “isolated” incidents of suspected domestic violence.
And when will police forces show, not just tell us, how much they care about stamping out domestic violence? They’re fully capable of being meticulous: the surveillance drones, the dyeing of a turquoise lagoon to deter swimmers, the fine written up (and later retracted) for a shop owner who marked the pavement to encourage safe queueing, the warnings for shopkeepers to not sell inessential goods, the locking up of parks in cities’ most densely-populated areas…
Police doubtless need to enforce social distancing laws in order to maintain public health. But some of these measures are excessive and misplaced. Obviously, no force wants to be singled out by the press for allowing the public to flout social distancing rules — but all forces are too inured to announcing the deaths of innocent women.
Three hours after I reported those terrifying noises, the police returned my call to tell me the address I’d reported didn’t exist. It did, I insisted, until I was believed.
As a passerby, I felt sure of myself in a way that shouldn’t be expected of a survivor. I told a local councillor my concerns, and he’s alerted the local Adult Safeguarding team. At a time when social workers — the soothing balm to officers’ bluntness — are reporting they’re not even able to carry out risk assessments at people’s homes right now, I felt it was my duty to do more to help this woman. I know not everyone’s on chatty terms with local government.
But we as the public have to do our utmost best to stop these tragedies. We can get a lot done; the Big Society is in full flow, the government’s NHS scheme counts 700,000 volunteers so far, and the Mutual Aid groups have countless members - in your local WhatsApp alone - to help those 1.5 million elderly, unwell and disabled get their shopping and medicine and so on.
We need to remember who else is vulnerable, though. Some women — pregnant women, elderly women victims of abuse — are lying at the intersection of Covid-19 and domestic violence risks. And many others, who aren’t on the list of humanity’s most endangered, are facing an indefinite period of torment and, yes, in some cases, too many cases, death.
Fundamentally, domestic abuse and its normalisation (including sick jokes at victims’ expense) has to end. In the meantime, while isolation causes a surge in these non-isolated incidents of male violence, survivors need safe routes out, an attentive police force to punish perpetrators and, more than ever before, support from their neighbours.
Because as much as domestic abuse is rising, so should our awareness of it. If we had any excuse to ignore what was going on before, we certainly don’t now. We’re all at home, on the other side of the wall from these horrors. It’s the police’s job to believe these women when they speak up, and it’s our duty to listen to them when they can’t say a word.
If you need urgent police help through the 999 service, but can’t speak, call 999 then press 55 to access the Silent Solution service where operators will know your call is genuine and do their best to help. If you call from a landline, police should be able to track your location.