A mum-of-two who endured years of emotional abuse from her partner is urging domestic abuse victims to seek help from a life-saving support service during the Coronavirus lockdown.
The new Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (IDVA) regional service has just extended its operation from five days to seven days a week and support will be available 24 hours a day after receiving extra funding from the North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones.
The woman, now separated from her persecutor, said the extension was pivotal to people whose physical and mental wellbeing are hanging by a thread during lockdown.
The woman called Lily to protect her identity – though this is not her real name – said it is essential the message gets to victims that help is still available despite lockdown.
In the north-west of Wales it is being run by Gorwel, and in the north-east the service is being provided by the Domestic Abuse Safety Unit (DASU), at Deeside.
As national experts also warn long term social distancing could prompt a spike in domestic violence, the police and crime commissioner said the timing of the IDVA service extension could not be more crucial.
Arfon Jones, a former police inspector said there are serious fears of an escalation in incidents as families at risk are confined together for long periods.
Lily, now in her 40s, said she had suffered years of coercive, controlling emotional abuse from her former partner, the father of her two children.
Seeing the severe psychological impact the abuse was having on them, as well as herself, she sought help from Gorwel, which is managed by Grŵp Cynefin housing association, which supports over a 100 child victims of abuse.
But Lily now fears victims may think there is nowhere to turn in lockdown, that they just have to endure abuse, or they may even consider harming themselves in their distress.
She said: “For households with an ongoing pattern of domestic abuse the consequences could be life-threatening.”
Latest figures reveal 959 domestic violence cases were reported across six North Wales authorities in a year.
Many professionals believe this could rise significantly as people normally apart at work or school during the day stay together full time.
Though Lily’s partner was never physically violent, she said that he perpetuated relentless mind games, voicing insults, accusations and threats in front of the children, and making up disturbing stories.
She said: “Even if there is no violence the psychological effects on children are immense. They would see me crying, feeling helpless and inadequate. I couldn’t let them witness it any longer. That is not normal family life.”
Lily learned about Gorwel from a friend but she said, as her partner would not let her get a job or go out socially, friends only visited when he was not there.
She said: “My friends were my saving grace, but in lockdown victims may have no way of contacting or talking privately to friends or family. The pressures will be 24/7. They may feel there’s no escape. It’s so important they realise there’s still a lifeline, safe havens are open, services still working all out to help them out.”
Gorwel manager Gwyneth Williams, who has more than 20 years’ experience working in the field, said self or household isolation will have a direct impact on anyone experiencing domestic abuse.
She said: “Domestic abuse affects all ages, genders and all classes. We are in dangerous times where people are understandably trying to stick to social distancing rules caused by Coronavirus, but the sad reality is home is not a safe place for anyone living with an abuser.
“It’s important to highlight to that vital services remain open all hours even in the midst of the current stringent lockdown.
“The Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (IDVA) regional service is one organisation offering refuge to people in desperate need and it has just added another two days to its rota so its team of experienced professionals can be called on any day of the week.”
The service is tasked with providing support for all domestic abuse victims, as part of a five year funding partnership between the Welsh Government, local authorities and the North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner. It costs £540,000 across the region’s six local authority areas: Anglesey, Conwy, Denbighshire, Flintshire, Gwynedd, and Wrexham.
Gaynor McKeown, the Chief Executive of DASU, added: “This increase from a five day service to a seven days facility has long been needed, even before Coronavirus.
“Where a partner has a history of violence in the home, the whole family is sitting on a time-bomb.
“Even if the abuse is something new and has not happened before, do not let it go unchecked, do not put it down to the circumstances or let it escalate. Seek help.
“The dangers are exacerbated if drink is involved or young children have a temper tantrum. Often a man with a history of controlling behaviour will blame his partner for the smallest thing that he perceives to be wrong and lash out violently.
“This is an especially perilous and frightening environment for young children who witness scenes of brutality or are drawn into domestic fights.”
The IDVA service works to remove adults and children from danger, find safe accommodation, counselling and support to make a new life.
North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones added there are concerns about people living in isolation with their abuser may not have a safe opportunity to call for help or access online contacts while their abuser is close by.
He said: “For this reason we call on anyone worried about a family member, friend or neighbour to get in touch on their behalf.
“No abuser should be under the misapprehension they can get away with any form of assault because the country is in lockdown.
“We are all feeling the effects of social distancing and self-isolation which have been imposed for everyone’s ultimate safety. It is a distressing time, but there is no excuse for physical violence, emotional duress or threatening behaviour no matter what the circumstances.
“The IDVA service advisors are equipped with experience and skills to help anyone in this desperate situation. We urge people not to hesitate for a moment to reach out for help.”
The Independent Domestic Violence Advisors can be contacted free of charge 24/7 by ringing the Live Fear Free Helpline on 0808 80 10 800
How to access help if you are experiencing abuse:
• If you feel in immediate danger but cannot speak due to being isolated with an abusive partner, dial 999 and press 55. This signals to the operator that you need help but are unable to talk.
• A secure App can be downloaded and used to record incidents of domestic abuse.
How to help a friend or family member living with domestic abuse during lockdown
• Always assume the abuser is listening to your call or reading your messages so be careful.
• Look out for changes in the way you normally communicate with each other. Someone being physically abused may avoid video calls or someone being controlled may cut themselves off from you entirely.
• Try to keep in touch as often as possible and primarily via video calls or voice calls.
• Agree on a code word that can be used to signal the need for help.
• If you’re concerned someone is in immediate danger call 999.
• Be aware of the above information to help those isolated with an abusive partner.