At least 26 women and girls have been killed during the coronavirus lockdown, and others were trapped with abusers. But pleas for emergency support have largely gone unanswered.
LONDON — The British government, after failing to heed early warnings that domestic abuse would soar during the coronavirus lockdown, is still struggling to adequately respond more than four months later. For victims trapped with their abusers, the consequences have been catastrophic.
During the first month after the lockdown began in late March, sixteen women and girls were killed in suspected domestic homicides — more than triple the number from the same period in 2019. At least 10 more have died in the two months since then. The oldest of them was 82 years old. The youngest, killed alongside her mother and 4-year-old sister, was 2.
Distress calls to abuse hotlines are soaring. Charities are overwhelmed, while some emergency housing providers cannot meet demand. An already overstretched court system is suffering lengthy delays and has allowed some abusers to return home, despite restraining orders.
By contrast, New Zealand included domestic abuse preparations in its broader lockdown planning from the start. Italy, Spain and other countries set up nationwide programs to house abuse victims in hotels if existing shelters were full. Germany made an open-ended pledge to fund shelters and other crucial services.
Britain did none of this. Interviews with more than 50 government and law enforcement officials, academic experts, front-line support workers and abuse survivors show that British leaders never prioritized domestic abuse in lockdown planning and are still failing to quickly provide help. Early in the lockdown, the government promised 37 million pounds, or about $46 million, in emergency funds for domestic abuse charities, but as yet only £1 million has reached front-line organizations.
The National Oversight Group on Domestic Abuse — a cross-party advisory group set up under former Prime Minister Theresa May — has not convened once during the pandemic. The government’s overall pandemic plan, published on March 3, includes no mention of domestic abuse.
The government did not commission its first strategic action plan for addressing domestic abuse until late May — two months after lockdown commenced — and the resulting report found that violence against women and girls was “still not being factored into the highest levels of the pandemic response.”
“There is no defined government strategy at all,” said Jess Phillips, a Labour lawmaker who speaks for the opposition on domestic violence policy. “Some services have got no funding to keep going.”
The government contests that. Victoria Atkins, the minister in charge of the government’s response to domestic violence, said in a statement that the officials had provided financial support, communicated regularly with charities and was “committed to supporting victims and bringing perpetrators to account.”
The list of 26 women and girls believed to have been killed by male partners or relatives during the lockdown was originally compiled by the Counting Dead Women Project, a group of researchers who have testified before Parliament about homicides of women. The New York Times corroborated the number through police and court records, open-source research, press reports and interviews.
Counting Dead Women only tracks killings of women and girls by men. It does not include transgender victims, meaning the true total is very likely higher. The Times also identified eight cases in which a man was suspected to have been killed by a partner or relative during lockdown.
New York Times July 2, 2020