London — The London-based domestic violence charity Solace says it saw a 200% rise in calls to its helpline during the first easing of Britain's coronavirus lockdown in May, and that it is preparing for a massive rise in demand for its services when restrictions relax even further on July 4.
"As restriction ease, as partners go back physically to work or come off furlough, for example, then they will be able to, they will be trying to seek those means of escape," Fiona Dwyer, chief executive of Solace, told CBS News.
Coronavirus lockdowns around the worldabout an increase in domestic abuse, as partners were trapped in close proximity to one another to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Dwyer says the numbers of people fleeing abusive relationships is expected to increase as lockdown restrictions ease further and escape starts to feel like more of a possibility for some victims and survivors.
"As things start to ease, more and more women will be able to get out, get help. So we are anticipating that there will be a massive increase in demand, and we were already seeing it come through," she said.
Abuse under lockdown
The U.K.'s initial lockdown restrictions, which began in March, only permitted people to leave their homes to exercise once per day, or for essential shopping or medical care. Those rules were relaxed slightly the week of May 10, when people were allowed to go out for exercise as many times a day as they liked.
During that week, Dwyer said, Solace, which operates services across London, received 430 calls, 200% more than it did during the first week of lockdown, when it received 135, and 100% more compared to the previous week.
The kinds of calls Solace was getting were also more serious under lockdown than in the same period in previous years. In the London borough of Southwark, for example, Solace says 92% of the cases it worked on in May were "high-risk," meaning there was a. Usually during May, only around 52% of Solace's Southwark cases are high-risk, Dwyer said.
Dwyer explained that the lockdown period has, for some, heightened tensions at home, possibly to a breaking point.
"Because of the tactics of abuse, many, many women don't realize they're in abusive relationships, and I think because of the pressures of lockdown, and that sort of very close proximity to partners over a sustained period of time… it will have escalated a lot of abusive relationships," she told CBS News.
Others may have known they were in abusive relationships but decided buckle down to make it through the height of the pandemic. Now that the lockdown is easing, they may feel they no longer have to stay put.
"I think it's kind of that two-fold means of escape now, and also recognition," Dwyer said.
During the lockdown, Solace launched a COVID-19 crisis accommodation project to provide safe shelter for the additional women trying to flee their homes and, along with other local organizations, secured funding to offer 70 additional spaces. Within one week, there were 30 women and five children being housed in the new accommodation, Dwyer said. Within three weeks, all 70 spaces were full.
"We're recruiting crisis workers, and essentially, we can't… recruit fast enough for the demand that's coming through," Dwyer said.
"The message from me is, really, that if you can get help, do. We are here to support you if you need it."
If you are a survivor or victim in the U.S. and it is an emergency, dial 911. Other resources include: The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE, or text LOVEIS to 22522. If it is an emergency in the U.K., call the police at 999, or for additional resources in Britain, you can dial the National Domestic Abuse hotline at 0808 2000 247.