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‘The Shadow Pandemic’: Domestic Abuse and its Devastating Effects on Families and Children

‘The Shadow Pandemic’: Domestic Abuse and its Devastating Effects on Families and Children

25th November 2020

Today, 25th November, is International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. This date also marks the start of the United Nations’ 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, which will run until Human Rights Day on 10th December.

Violence against women and girls, also known as gender-based violence, is a global pandemic which has been leaving its ugly scars on our world long before COVID-19 came on the scene. Gender-based violence is not limited solely to physical acts of violence, such as physical or sexual abuse, but is an overarching term extending to all forms of abuse and injustice which disproportionately affect women and girls.

Why has it now come to be known as the ‘the shadow pandemic’? Because such acts of injustice have historically hidden in the shadows and remain inextricably linked to shame and secrecy. TLG is a Christian charity, and we believe strongly that God’s plan is not for the suffering of His people to be silenced and to continue unchallenged. God loves justice, and we should love it too and defend the oppressed and be a voice for the voiceless. At TLG, we seek to actively be that voice for the voiceless in the work we do for families and children.

And carrying the torch in the marathon against gender-based violence is inseparable from that commitment.

Domestic abuse is one of the many appalling forms of gender-based violence which gravely and directly impact the families and children we serve. [Domestic abuse can be perpetrated by both men and women, but women are disproportionately the victims.] Women’s Aid defines domestic abuse as:

an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence, in the majority of cases by a partner or ex-partner, but also by a family member or carer.’

Domestic abuse covers physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, psychological (such as ‘gaslighting’), financial, and - in faith communities – spiritual abuse.

1 in 4 women in the UK experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. When looked at from a global perspective, the incidence increases to 1 in 3 . What may come as even more of a shock is that in the UK, the rate of domestic abuse in the Church is just as high as it is in non-Christian households (Restored).  

This must change.

The Covid-19 pandemic has only exacerbated an already-gaping wound. At the beginning of the first national lockdown in March, domestic abuse helplines reported a surge in the number of calls they received from women in crisis. The UK’s largest domestic abuse charity (Refuge) received nearly 80% more calls than usual in the first month following the lockdown.

Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, figures showed that on average, two women were being killed by a current or former partner per week. This figure catapulted at the start of the lockdown, with one campaigner revealing that “the number of women killed by men over the first three weeks since lockdown is the highest it’s been for at least 11 years” (The Guardian, 2020).

Violence against women and girls doesn’t just affect the female demographic, who constitute over 50% of the population. It affects our entire society.

Abused women are often mothers and their children will inevitably become entangled in the turmoil. Women’s Aid reports that 14.2% of children and young people under 18 live with domestic abuse at some point in their childhood. According to a 2017 survey, 61.7% of women in refuges were with their children (Women's Aid, 2017).

Sometimes the children may witness physical or verbal acts of violence against the victimised parent, or may even become victims themselves. The effects of this trauma manifest in a number of ways at different times for different children. Signs and symptoms include: withdrawal and depression; anxiety; lack of trust for adults; low self-esteem and more. Sometimes children begin to act out the dynamics they have seen at home and step into the shoes of the intimidating bully.

Our Safeguarding Lead at TLG, Helen, notes that often when children experience domestic abuse at home, they show little engagement in the classroom. She points out a sad and striking observation: pupils in households where domestic abuse is taking place will often eat copiously during the day, because the lack of stability and atmosphere of fear at home leaves them worrying about where their next meal will come from.

Experiencing abuse has severe ramifications. The homeless charity Shelter reports domestic abuse as the single most-quoted reason for homelessness (Shelter, 2002). LWA (Living without Abuse) states that around 400 people a year commit suicide after having been hospitalised for domestic abuse injuries in the previous six months (LWA). Domestic abuse is often cited as the triggering factor which begins the spiral of substance abuse.

More than half of women in prison today (57%) have experienced domestic abuse, according to the Prison Reform Trust. Compared to men (27%), 53% of women prisoners revealed they had experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse as a child (Prison Reform Trust, 2017).

This spiral must stop.

What we are doing and what you can do

At TLG, our Education Centre staff actively promote discussions around what healthy relationships look like, to delegitimise any sense of normality around this common social ill. There is also a focused effort made to balance out male and female staff, so that our students are presented with positive examples of both men and women.

Staff and pupils talk through legislation which outlaws domestic abuse, to underline the fact that abuse is always wrong. Abuse goes against everything we believe about the intrinsic and inestimable value God has accorded to every individual.

Recently, a parent who has survived domestic abuse and whose children are being helped by TLG Early Intervention, expressed her gratitude for our services, saying: “I am so incredibly grateful to TLG for giving my kids support but also for the support that TLG have given me”.

The UK Government is taking steps to crack down on domestic abuse. The Domestic Abuse Bill, currently making its way through the House of Lords, is promising in many ways: it will create a statutory legal definition of domestic abuse and obligate local authorities to ensure shelter for victims, amongst many other actions. However, the support that the bill offers does not apply to migrant women, which is a major shortcoming. There is still time to write to your MP or a member of the House of Lords to ask them to provide protection for these women too, who include asylum seekers and those on spousal visas. 

If you know someone – or are yourself – experiencing domestic abuse, please seek help. Refuge, Women’s Aid and Christian charity Restored are just some of the places you can go to.

The National Domestic Abuse Helpline is 0808 2000 247. If you are in immediate danger, call 999 – and if you are unable to speak, press 55 when prompted and the police will know you are in a genuine emergency.

Ruth Akinradewo

Ruth Akinradewo

Ruth Akinradewo has a background in language-related roles, having studied French and Italian at Oxford University. In her time at Oxford, Ruth wrote and spoke extensively about social injustice – notably about racism, for national newspaper The Voice. Ruth is passionate about social justice: in addition to her role within TLG, Ruth is an Ambassador for Press Red, a Christian charity which seeks to raise awareness about gender-based violence. She is also a trustee for a Christian charity providing shelter to migrant women fleeing domestic abuse, who under current legislation have no recourse to public funds.

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