August 21, 2020

Domestic Abuse: Responding in a Changed World

Jane Port
Assistant Chief Probation Officer

Shocking statistics revealed that domestic abuse has surged since the start of the coronavirus lockdown (Guardian, April 2020).

Sadly, I’m aware that the impact it has had on this type of offending is likely to continue for some time.

To respond, like many organisations, we have had to adapt the way we protect and support victims when risks to them have increased. These risks will continue to rise long after lockdown eases.  Having a job, for example, is a stable factor for many perpetrators of domestic abuse, but damning figures estimate that unemployment is set to triple (Office for Budget Responsibility, July 2020). These stressors strain relationships and unfortunately increase the risk of further abuse.

To respond to these increasing risks, we’ve prioritised seeing known perpetrators of domestic abuse face-to-face and have continued to give victims support through a Domestic Abuse Safety Advisor. But the sad reality is that domestic abuse is a hidden crime. There will be people we are working with who are experiencing or perpetrating domestic abuse, but initially are presenting to us with other issues such as alcohol misuse.

Equipping employees to work in the new world

As with many other organisations, the advent of lockdown has meant our staff had to change the way they work almost overnight. And less face-to-face contact can make it more difficult for our employees to notice who is vulnerable and at risk of abuse.

We’ve developed new training to help equip our employees with the skills and confidence to use their professional curiosity to uncover signs of abuse in this new Covid-19 world.

The new virtual training has refreshed what the key identifiers of domestic abuse are for our employees and how Covid-19 is changing these. It has also helped our practitioners, through critically reflective discussion, to identify and overcome current challenges specific to the pandemic and apply their existing expertise in new ways. Everything from thinking about how they can use video calls to help them assess the risks, read a person’s body language and see who else is in the room, to using the opportunities to challenge and ask more questions so they can identify, assess and manage the risks.

With the delivery of this timely, effective training, we’ve been able to show that working under Covid-19 restrictions doesn’t have to be a barrier for them.

Probation Service Officer (PSO) Yolanda Corney from Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire Probation Services said she will “use Facetime or Skype to see service users, to assess their living situation, needs and risk more.”

PSO Charlotte Stone who works in West Sussex said the reflective discussion has given her the confidence “of how to best deliver interventions in this environment.”

While we were concerned initially about doing training virtually, it has had unexpected benefits.

People say they’ve felt more confident to contribute to discussions than they would have in a classroom environment. They are also meeting and sharing experiences with people they would not usually see as they are in different areas of the country, providing a wider pool of knowledge to reflect on and solve their practice issues.

If we are to spot domestic abuse and tackle the issue, we need to ensure we’ve got the skills and can apply these in the new ‘Covid-19 world’ for our practice to be effective. Virtual learning has helped us to rise to this challenge. And by investing in learning and development we can help staff to reflect upon their practice and ways in which they can effectively respond to domestic abuse under the current circumstances at a time when victims need us the most.

Jane Port is Assistant Chief Probation Officer and lead for learning and development at Kent, Surrey and Sussex Community Rehabilitation Company, part of the Seetec Group, an employee-owned company operating in the UK and Ireland.

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