Now is the time to reach in

A year into the Covid-19 pandemic, SafeLives Head of Practice Michelle Phillips reflects on how we can reach in to help friends and family

It’s been a year since the world changed in a way most of us couldn’t imagine. In that time, we’ve all been on a journey. At first there was surprise, shock, novelty, fear. Some of us may have experienced heart breaking grief or been separated from family. Now, 12 months on, we’ve settled into some sort of routine – however unwelcome. Lockdowns and face masks are not always pleasant but they are no longer new.

As we have adapted to life with Coronavirus and find hope in the promise of a vaccinated future, perhaps many of us now have the capacity to look beyond what’s happening in our own lives to what might be happening in the lives of others.

For victims of domestic abuse living with perpetrators, despite the Prime Minister’s roadmap, their ordeal is far from over. In fact, things are likely to become even harder if they are thinking of making a change when restrictions are lifted. Leaving a perpetrator is often the most dangerous time for a victim. While much has been reported on the acceleration of abuse during this period, we know we’re only seeing a tiny fraction of the true picture.

So now that some of us may feel we have a bit more breathing space, as restrictions ease and evenings get lighter, this is the moment to take a closer look at those around us.

Perhaps you’d had concerns about a friend when lockdown began last year and noticed you haven’t heard from her, that she wasn’t able to talk on the phone or join a zoom call? Perhaps you have long worried about a relative but have been too preoccupied with homeschooling to reach in and ask her how she is? Maybe a colleague asked to borrow money but at the time you thought it was just because of COVID-19. Now, looking back, does their behaviour seem worrying to you?

If you have a gut feeling, now is the time to act. It is easy to think this crisis is coming to an end, and maybe it’s not so urgent anymore, but it is essential we remember that is only true for some of us but by no means all of us. We have to keep reaching in and doing our part. Domestic abuse is everyone’s business. This is true now and will continue to be true long after lockdown.

It can feel like a daunting task but there are ways of reaching in that can open a line of communication. Simply keeping in touch, survivors have told us, can go a long way – just be mindful that texts and phone calls might be monitored.  If you can find a safe way to catch up, let them know you’re happy to listen. Mention they’ve seemed down lately and ask if anything is wrong. If your friend does disclose abuse, there are things you can help with. Offer to do a shop or to keep a packed bag. Remind your friend they are not alone and help is available.

It is easy to feel helpless, but we know that these small moments can make a big difference in the lives of a survivor of domestic abuse. Research tells us that victims are more likely to disclose abuse to people they know and trust. Reaching in could save a life.

In the next few months, life will start to look more normal – for some of us.  Pub gardens will open their doors, hairdressers will have long queues, and, gradually, we’ll be able to reunite with friends and family. But we’re the lucky ones. This is our time to help those who are still trapped with perpetrators. This is our time to reach in.

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