The coronavirus pandemic has taken thousands of lives across Britain, but not just as a result of the virus. Domestic abuse has drastically risen since the start of lockdown and will continue to do so if the government fail to pass adequate legislation. The Domestic Abuse Bill must prevail, writes Olivia Fox.

In the first three weeks of lockdown, 16 people were killed in domestic abuse cases. This number is more than triple that from the same period in 2019. While the government's coronavirus strategy protected lives from the virus, it could not protect victims from domestic abuse.

When the government announced the national lockdown on the 23rd March, the nation was told to stay home, protect the NHS and save lives. However, for those in abusive relationships and households, life suddenly became much more dangerous.

Nineteen days in, the government announced a £2 million package for domestic abuse helplines. This delayed response potentially cost lives. As Fiona Dwyer, the CEO of the women's charity Solace, said: "It shouldn't have taken nineteen days to mobilise any sort of action."

A joint investigation undertaken by Panorama and the charity Women's Aid found that two thirds of women in abusive relationships suffered increased violence from their partner during the pandemic. Three quarters of victims also said that the pandemic made it harder for them to escape their situation. Some charities have reported that perpetrators have used the COVID-19 rules as another way to control and isolate their victims.

This was certainly the case for 'Jess', whose husband told her that, if she thought it was bad before, she was in for a rough ride. She estimates that she was raped over 100 times during the first 8 weeks of lockdown alone. When, after three weeks, her husband warned her that she'd never see the sun again, she knew she had to escape. With her husband home, she knew she couldn't ring the police without alerting him. Whilst he slept, she googled how to contact the police without calling 999 and texted them. Officers arrived at her address within minutes and she was finally able to escape.

Jess's story was first told on the BBC Panorama programme 'Escaping My Abuser'. It illustrates the challenges victims face in simply getting the help they need. According to the charity SafeLives, over two thirds of victims have felt unable to seek help due to fear of repercussions from their partner.

This is despite the upswing in cases; during the 7 weeks of lockdown the police received a call about domestic abuse every 30 seconds. When you account for the cases that were not reported, this figure is bound to be much higher. The Respect Men's Advice Line, a leading charity that provides support for male victims of domestic abuse, reported that the pandemic had not only worsened domestic abuse, but had led to victims sleeping in cars or tents, having nowhere else to go.

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As well as the government's £2 million charity funding, a page on their website has been set up, dedicated to help those suffering domestic abuse.

The home secretary also announced the launch of the #YouAreNotAlone campaign designed to encourage those who are suffering to reach out to others. While this is promising, Human Rights Watch has deemed these actions insufficient. The passing of the Domestic Abuse Bill is imperative to provide more support for victims.

The Bill provides a statutory definition of domestic abuse for the first time. The definition is gender neutral, covering emotional, economic as well as physical, abuse. It was first introduced in Parliament last year, but was delayed due to the general election in December. After being reintroduced this year, it has passed the Commons but is awaiting a second reading in the House of Lords.

The Bill places a duty on local authorities to protect and support victims, as well as ensuring they are eligible for special measures in court. Children are recognised as victims of domestic abuse and a domestic abuse commissioner has been appointed. Homeless abuse victims will be able to get priority housing assistance, allowing them to get off the streets and live somewhere they can feel safe.

The highly controversial 'rough sex' defence was removed, after having been used in court by men who killed their partner during sex. Instead, the Bill reinstates that 'a person may not consent to the infliction of serious harm' and, as such, cannot consent to their own death.

Although passage of the Bill in the House of Commons was a landmark moment, there was concern among some charities and various MPs that it did not go far enough. New Clause 22, which would have allowed domestic abuse victims to access a variety of benefits irrespective of their immigration status, was voted against.

Although the Bill is a step in the right direction, it leaves migrants without access to public funds. It will force these victims to make an impossible choice- to stay with their abuser or leave without having access to any support. Instead of supporting all victims of abuse, the Bill allows people to be denied help based on their immigration status.

Nonetheless, the Domestic Abuse Bill will improve the lives of many and provide much needed support to victims; it must be passed.

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