Why Super Saturday And Covid Masks Are A Troubling Blend For Anti-Violence Charities

Hidden faces, understaffed pubs and a return to indoor drinking could escalate abusive behaviour.

Coronavirus has changed everything. Make sense of it all with the Waugh Zone, our evening politics briefing. Sign up now.

Saturday marks the partial easing of most coronavirus lockdown restrictions in England – the end of what Boris Johnson has called a three-month “hibernation”.

Top of the list for some is the first chance to exercise the “ancient, inalienable right of free-born people” (his words) to go to the pub.

But the Police Federation has warned that Johnson’s decision to ease restrictions means a “head of steam” has been gathering towards July 4 and officers are worried about “alcohol consumption leading to drunken and irresponsible behaviour”.

Now HuffPost UK has heard warnings of a “spike in nightlife sexual violence” against women.

And while charities are clear that alcohol, the lockdown, and the lifting of it cannot be used as excuses for violence, harassment or domestic abuse, there are concerns that abusive behaviour could be “exacerbated” or “escalated”.

Bryony Beynon, managing director of the Good Night Out campaign for safer nightlife, has been helping venue managers include the safety of women and LGBTQ+ people in their post-lockdown strategy.

“With many staff still furloughed and reopening bars and pubs now having to do much more with much less, we can foresee a spike in nightlife sexual violence”

Sexual harassment or violence “doesn’t happen because people get ‘carried away’, but because they make harmful personal choices,” she said.

Beynon told HuffPost UK: “With many staff still furloughed and reopening bars and pubs now having to do much more with much less, we can foresee a spike in nightlife sexual violence that will be particularly acute in premises that have still yet to enact clear policies or consistent consequences.”

Beynon called for a “zero tolerance” approach towards unwanted sexual behaviour to customers and staff members as bars reopen from pubs and bars.

And she warned that as people mingle more – and at nighttime rather than in parks in the day – there is a “strong possibility that perpetrators may use social distancing measures such as masks as a cover for harassment, which also extends to abuse on the street and transport”.

“Victims may feel they are less likely to be believed if the harasser is not immediately recognisable,” she said. “To help venues prepare for this, we have been helping managers extend their post-lockdown priorities to the safety of women and LGBTQ+ people by running an online training course for managers called Nightlife Unlocked.”

Sarah Green, director at the End Violence Against Women (EVAW) coalition, urged people enjoying the weekend to look out for friends and fellow revellers.

“The government is trying to create a narrative that we’re all back to normal – we’re all soon back at school and back at work – but many public services which women rely on are not”

“If those who are going out for fun and seeing people they’ve not seen for ages could all take responsibility for the way we behave and our friends behave, it could be a good weekend for all,” she said.

“If somebody is out of order towards women in your group or women strangers, tell them.

“Let’s look out for each other.”

Green also warned there was a wider danger around believing “normality” is returning. Many services that women rely on are still being affected by a lockdown, which itself led to fears of surging domestic violence as women were trapped with their abusers.

She warned the police workforce has been depleted by officers self-isolating, courts are unable to quickly administer things like injunctions against abusers, and investigations and prosecutions are being “significantly slowed down and delayed by ongoing restrictions”.

Meanwhile many GPs’ surgeries, which are “really important places where women sometimes disclose and seek help”, are still operating virtually.

“The government is trying to create a narrative that we’re all back to normal, we’re all soon back at school and back at work, but actually many public services which women rely on are not,” Green said.

“So I think we can get caught up in ‘it’s all back to normal’ when there’s a lot of people still shielding and isolating and the public services we need are still quite diverted, the justice system is still messy and it’s not clear when it will be anything like back to normal.”

ViewApart via Getty Images

Sarah Davidge, data and evaluation at Women’s Aid, said there is evidence of spikes in reporting of domestic abuse around big football matches.

And she suggested there are concerns that the July 4 weekend might have the same effect.

“Within saying that alcohol and pubs don’t cause domestic abuse, it’s the perpetrators that do that, we do know things like big football matches... you do see a spike in incidents reported afterwards.

“It’s clear from what’s happened in the past, spikes around football tournaments – even though football, drinking, Covid-19 don’t cause domestic abuse, only perpetrators do that – that events like this can exacerbate and escalate behaviour in the short-term and lead to increases in reporting.

“It’s also really important to be aware increases in reporting to the police isn’t the full extent of the picture. Many women will never report to the police and that’s particularly true for women from more marginalised groups whose experiences might be compounded by structural inequalities and institutional racism, and may just feel less safe seeking help from statutory agencies.

“But we would certainly say there is a concern about any event that might lead to escalating domestic abuse.”

Police chiefs said forces would include plans for domestic incidents, sexual harassment and violence as part of their preparations for pubs and bars reopening.

A National Police Chiefs Council spokesperson said: “The vast majority of drinkers are responsible but we know some people will drink to excess and become vulnerable to harm or indeed cause harm to others.

“Anti-social and criminal behaviour is not acceptable and police will work to ensure public safety, cut crime, and safeguard vulnerable people.

“To abusers, do not think this is a time you can get away with it.

“We will still arrest where appropriate to do so, we will still bring people into custody, and we will still prosecute.

“The Crown Prosecution Service has said this is a priority, and courts are also working to prioritise high risk cases.”

If you, or someone you know, is in immediate danger, call 999 and ask for the police. If you are not in immediate danger, you can contact:

  • The Freephone 24 hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, run by Refuge: 0808 2000 247
  • In Scotland, contact Scotland’s 24 hour Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline: 0800 027 1234
  • In Northern Ireland, contact the 24 hour Domestic & Sexual Violence Helpline: 0808 802 1414
  • In Wales, contact the 24 hour Life Fear Free Helpline on 0808 80 10 800.
  • National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0800 999 5428
  • Men’s Advice Line: 0808 801 0327
  • Respect helpline (for anyone worried about their own behaviour): 0808 8024040

What's Hot