Lockdown has brought with it all kinds of relational challenges, including extreme loneliness, getting on each other’s nerves, and figuring out how to do work, home school, and family life within four walls. There is also a positive side, enjoying the time to grow closer to our loved ones.
But for some people, the biggest challenge is being trapped in their own home, 24 hours a day, with an abusive relative.
After a couple of weeks of lockdown in the UK, worrying reports began to emerge from some of the charities and organizations caring for victims of domestic abuse. Refuge is the largest UK charity helping domestic abuse victims. On April 6, 2020, the organization reported a 700-percent increase in visits to its website and a 120-percent increase in direct calls for information and advice.
This development stimulated a range of creative responses to the problem. One British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) newsreader wrote the phone number of the National Domestic Abuse Helpline on her hand so that she could show it to viewers. A large chain of pharmacies offered to help victims who asked for a personal consultation. They were then shown to a private room, where specially trained staff helped them to find a place of safety.
“As the Family Ministries director at the Trans-European Division, I don’t often receive calls and emails about how to deal with domestic abuse,” says Karen Holford. “But when I received several queries in one week, I realized that we needed to respond by offering some training to our union ministerial directors.”
The amount of training that pastors receive to help them respond to incidences of domestic abuse varies widely across the division, and so does the level of national and local support for victims. None of the pastors had ever received training in managing cases of domestic abuse in a pandemic lockdown context.
“I was learning alongside the workers on the ground,” Holford admits. “Most of them had never experienced domestic abuse situations before, so we were helping each other learn how to manage this challenge. One pastor had the creative idea to create an online Google document to share information about domestic abuse with an abused person in her home. Her abuser had access to her phone several times a day, so it wasn’t safe to send her messages. And she couldn’t search online for helpful advice unless the website had a rapid escape button that cleared the history.”
The Google document was used for sharing ideas, “chatting,” checking that she was still safe, and telling her to gather her vital documents, financial information, passport, clothes, and significant possessions in a safe place in case she needed to leave in a hurry.
Fortunately, this story had a happy ending, but only because the pastor was concerned about her, and the victim had the courage to speak out. There are potentially thousands of people in our churches, families, and communities that are seriously at risk of abuse at this time. By reaching out, you could become a lifeline.
How to Help an Abused Person During Lockdown
It's important to understand several aspects of abuse as you consider helping someone who is at risk.