By Lydia O’Kane
Since countries have gone into lockdown to halt the spread of the coronavirus, the daily reports of new cases and fatalities have continued to alarm the world.
Rise in domestic abuse during pandemic
But there are also other figures which have increased dramatically during this pandemic and are raising concern: those of domestic abuse — so much so, that the United Nations is describing this scourge as a growing "shadow pandemic".
With many countries still maintaining strict isolation measures, this has meant that people have had to remain at home with their abuser.
Since the UK-wide COVID-19 lockdown began on 23 March, there has been a 49% increase in calls and online requests for help relating to domestic abuse.
Responding to this worrying trend, the British government last month rolled out a campaign under the hashtag #YouAreNotAlone.
It aims to reassure those affected by domestic abuse that support services remain available during the pandemic.
Parish support Shocking numbers
In light of this significant rise in requests for help, the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW) is calling on parishes to give support to victims of domestic violence during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Conference’s Domestic Abuse Group has issued guidance which includes information about how parishes can raise awareness and how to safely get help.
Bishop John Sherrington chairs the Domestic Abuse Group of the Bishops Conference, and described the numbers as shocking.
“We know that there’s a lot of domestic abuse in society; last year when we produced resources for the Day for Life, we focused on domestic abuse, and the statistics are that one in four women is abused — and one in six men — during the course of their life. But now this 49 per cent increase in calls to a domestic abuse helpline is very shocking.
Speaking about how the Church can play its part, the Bishop said, “I think first of all we can raise awareness about this issue; it’s not something outside of us, it’s something within every part of society.”
Secondly, he said, the Bishops want parishes to keep in contact with people and give particular thought to those who might disappear from sight at this time and who are very vulnerable.
Support for agencies
Bishop Sherrington also stressed that parishes have an important role to play in supporting local agencies, especially those dealing with domestic abuse.
“There has been a lot of learning about domestic abuse and so, given the recognition that this is an offence against the dignity of every person, I do encourage people who are experiencing abuse to make contact with those agencies. If you are in danger for your life to go to the police”, he said.
“Every person has a right to live their life free from violence, intimidation, abuse and fear, and so we want to emphasize that Catholic parishes can play an important part in the fighting of this scourge of domestic abuse, especially during the pandemic.”