Leeds' charity's fears over domestic violence spike during lockdown

A Leeds-based charity which supports victims of domestic abuse has said it fears the lockdown will lead to a spike in violence against women and could even lead to women taking their own lives.

Inspire North, which provides domestic abuse, mental health, wellbeing and housing support across Yorkshire and the North of England, is working to keep its refuge and support services functioning amid an “increasingly challenging” time for the third sector.

Director of development and innovation at Inspire North, Sinead Cregan, said: “Families are now finding themselves in situations that they are not used to. Women are finding themselves confined with an abusive partner with no outlet and their children at home too.

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“Our concerns are for the women already in an existing abusive relationship and how we can support them. We are worried about a potential rise in women taking their own lives. We do not want to scaremonger - it’s about being practical in these most unusual times.

Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA

“A lot of the time, our focus is on keeping women safe. But we also want to challenge men about their behaviour at this time.

“We know from evidence around the relationship with alcohol that it can be a big factor - we are concerned that many may be drinking heavily at home, and there is no distraction, no football or rugby to watch, and the children are at home making noise and arguing. We are worried about what these children will witness.”

Similar fears have been raised by the national domestic abuse charity, Refuge, whose chief executive Sandra Horley said she feared the period of concentrated time spent together for perpetrators and victims could “aggravate pre-existing abusive behaviours”.

The lockdown could “severely limit” lines of communication for women unable to leave the home.

Director of development and innovation at Inspire North, Sinead Cregan, Picture: Inspire North

Ms Cregan has shared practical tips for those concerned about domestic violence.

She said:

- “Put in place a safety plan. We encourage women to, if they can, plan in advance how they might respond to a crisis situation.”

- “Have a separate mobile phone hidden in the house that you can use, and make sure you keep your mobile phone on you at all times.”

- “If there are any neighbours you can trust, tell them to call the police if there are any signs of violence.”

- “If possible, pack an emergency bag for both you and your children. Hide it.”

- “Keep a small sum of money on you at all times.”

- “If you think your partner is going to attack you, think of the best place to be in the house. Don’t go into the kitchen, where there are knives, or into the bathroom where you could get trapped.”

Inspire North runs 50 services across Leeds, Kirklees, Calderdale, Doncaster, North Yorkshire, York, Seby, Crave, Harrogate, Scarborough and Hull, including a social prescribing service in Leeds.

Its 500 employees are now largely working from home, but those working in hostels and its refuge are encountering real difficulties in finding food, supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff.

Ms Cregan said: “We are having to adapt every day, and are using technology where we can to make sure we can still support our existing clients, whether it be through video conferencing, Skype or WhatsApp messages.

“But there are undoubtedly challenges. We’re having difficulty reaching online shopping or getting PPE for our staff.”

Helpline numbers:

- Leeds Women’s Aid 0113 246041

- The National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000 247

- Respect, the helpline for perpetrators of domestic abuse 0808 8024040.