Help and support for students experiencing harassment, assault or discrimination during social distancing and social isolation.

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A focus on domestic violence.

During Coronavirus (Covid19) UWE continues to support students to create an inclusive campus where diversity is celebrated, antisocial attitudes and behaviours are challenged and any type of harassment, assault and discrimination aren’t acceptable. UWE developed its SpeakUp campaign to enable people to SpeakUp if they see or hear something that’s not right.

This blog focuses on domestic abuse which could be heightened during a period of social distancing and social isolation. There is a growing body of research regarding gender based violence in UK universities. Though studies have not tended to specifically focus on domestic abuse at UK universities, there are indicators that it occurs amongst students, e.g., the Office of National Statistics (ONS) indicate that young adults aged 18 to 24 tend to be at higher risk for domestic abuse (Gangoli, 2019).

Domestic abuse is defined by UWE’s SpeakUp campaign as ‘Controlling someone’s behaviour, choices and freedom’ which ‘can take many forms including physical, sexual, psychological, financial, verbal or emotional abuse.’ Refuge states ‘Abuse is a choice a perpetrator makes and isolation is already used by many perpetrators as a tool of control.’

Some facts about domestic abuse are:

  • An estimated 1.3 million women have experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2018, In England and Wales. (ONS). Two women a week are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales alone. (Refuge).
  • While domestic abuse is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men against women, men can be abused too, in both heterosexual and gay relationships.
  • One in four lesbian/bi women have experienced domestic abuse. Almost half of all gay/bi men have experienced at least one incident of domestic abuse. (Stonewall).
  • Stress, mental illness and loss of control are not excuses for domestic abuse. The proportion of abusers with mental health problems is no higher than in society as a whole. The majority of people who suffer from stress, anger and mental health issues do not domestically abuse, and abusers are often very controlled in their behaviour, choosing who, when and how to abuse.
  • For too long people have thought what goes on in the home is private, and not their problem. Domestic abuse is a crime. It is against the law. We all have a responsibility to speak out against it.

Why is this particularly important to think about now?

Domestic abuse often relies on isolating people in a deliberate attempt to weaken connectivity with those that can support them such as family, friends, and neighbours. This can make it really difficult to get the support needed. It can lead to the person being abused not recognising the behaviour as abusive. Due to recent guidance regarding social distancing and social isolation, victims of domestic abuse may become even more dependent on the person controlling them. Additionally, as resources are stretched and safe havens such as shelters close due to people becoming ill with coronavirus, the dangers for victims of domestic abuse increase. In houses and families where people are forced to spend increasing amounts of time together, incidences of domestic abuse could increase too as tensions and anxiety rise.

How do you know if you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse?

Some signs of domestic abuse are listed here. This is not an exhaustive list and you do not need to be experiencing all of these, all of the time to be a victim:

  • Intentionally causing you any form of physical harm or pain
  • Preventing you from seeing family/friends (at the moment this might include through skype/whatsapp/texting e.t.c.). Monitoring your movements, checking up on you via your email, Facebook, Twitter or by looking at your text messages
  • Constant criticism/put downs/embarrassing you/putting you in a bad light to others
  • Playing mind games with you, making you unsure of your judgment (gaslighting)
  • Telling you you’re useless and couldn’t cope without them
  • Controlling your money, telling you what to wear, who to see, where to go, what to think.
  • Pressure to have sex when you don’t want to
  • Using anger/intimidation/violent language/actions to make you comply with demands
  • Being blamed for behaviour, e.g., you were “asking for it” or “made me do it”
  • Withholding or smothering with affection too quick, too soon, too much (love bombing). (Adapted from Refuge ).

What can you do to support someone you think is a victim of domestic abuse or how can you get help yourself as a victim?

The first thing to say here is, social distancing and social isolation procedures as set out by the government and listed here must be followed for your own and others’ safety.

The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has clarified guidance, noting: ‘domestic abuse victims are permitted to leave home to escape their partners or ask for help during the coronavirus lockdown’.

N.B. Please follow government guidance as it changes in response to coronavirus lockdown.

Refuge have advice and support which can be accessed through the hyperlinks. Some of their take away messages are:

For victims

  • Call 999 if in immediate danger
  • If you are unable to speak on the phone, you can use the ‘Silent Solution’ system. Press 999 and then 55 when you are connected and the operator will transfer the call to the relevant police force as an emergency.
  • Keep a diary/document abuse (take care that a perpetrator cannot access these) Bright Sky On Record  are apps that might be helpful
  • Keep an escape bag if you have a safe place to do so and think of alternative places you can safely escape to at this time following government advice on social distancing/isolation
  • Try to keep your mobile charged and on you at all times. Agree on a code word with trusted friends or family so that they can call the police if you text or call them. 
  • Phone a helpline, e.g.: Refuge Women’s Aid  CAB FLOWS Men’s Advice Line
  • Particularly in the Bristol area, NextLink provides specialist domestic abuse services for women and children in Bristol including dedicated Black and Minority Ethnic, South Asian and Somali services and a GP referral service

For those wanting to help victims/survivors:

Many of these suggestions can be operated online presently, but you must be cautious as sometimes perpetrators will have control of a victim’s phone/computer/social media.

  • Call 999 if someone is in immediate danger
  • Listen/understand/acknowledge/affirm/don’t blame
  • Support to make own decisions. Do not tell someone to leave a relationship before they are ready, let them be in control of decisions
  • Provide information for support services/help someone to seek support
  • Offer use of your own phone/social media to seek support
  • Keep an emergency exit bag at your address that can be passed to a known victim following social distancing/isolation measures
  • Look after your own self if you take a disclosure, helplines can be for you too.

For students who are victims/survivors of domestic abuse, here are some links to some useful articles targeted at students in particular:

Domestic abuse is happening at university. So why don’t we talk about it?

What Is To Be Done About Sexual and Domestic Abuse at UK Universities?

At UWE, support continues to be there if you need it

  • You can contact the University’s Wellbeing Service to arrange emotional support on +44 (0)117 32 86268.
  • You can report concerns about yourself or other UWE students 24/7 via the UWE Bristol Serious Concerns Line:

+44 (0)7788 725507 (8:30-17:00 Monday-Thursday and 8:30-16:30 Friday)

+44 (0)7814 791212 (out of hours).

(Report and Support is not a system for emergencies)

In case of emergency

  • If there is an immediate risk of serious harm to you or anyone else or a crime has taken place call 999.
  • if you’re on campus, dial 9999 from a telephone connected to the University network to reach the campus control room.

Blog post by:

Dr Helen Bovill (UWE, Education and Childhood Researcher and Senior Lecturer) and Jess Winkler (UWE, Safeguarding Manager)

Dr Helen Bovill Twitter

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