by Dr Lisa Gould, PhD Neuroscience.


Over the last few months we have all struggled with the effects of Coronavirus (C-19); some of us losing loved ones, many of us taking the first faltering steps to move our lives to a new normal, and all of us spending more time than ever at home. Concerns for the welfare of women and girls during C-19 is now an international issue, as we know from previous hard experience that epidemics present serious gender related dangers.   A recent article in the Guardian (Apr 2020) reports that deaths from intimate partner violence have more than doubled during UK lockdown. And whilst we know that men can be survivors of violence and abuse too, all of these deaths have been women and children, with women and girls disproportionally affected across the board. The founder of the study that provided these statistics, Counting dead women, Karen Ingala Smith said: “I don’t believe coronavirus creates violent men. What we’re seeing is a window into the levels of abuse that women live with all the time. Coronavirus may exacerbate triggers, though I might prefer to call them excuses. Lockdown may restrict some women’s access to support or escape and it may even curtail measures some men take to keep their own violence under control.”

A recent article in the British Medical Journal (Roesch et al, 2020) identified pathways of risk during lockdown, including: Household stress, reduced social contact, and reduced access to services and disruption of livelihoods resulting in financial deprivation/control. In addition to the immediate physical danger facing women and children in violent households, there is the more subtle, insidious dangers of households living under coercive control. The safety of the place we call home is never more vital than when we are recovering from trauma, violence or abuse. Whilst one of the enduring benefits of counselling is the provision of a safe space, there is a need for our home life not to be in crisis when we face the crisis inside.

I remember when my own home felt unsafe. After extracting myself and my children from a particularly unpleasant domestic situation, I realised I was suddenly sat in the car, on a freezing December evening, with two small pyjama-clad children, and I hadn’t got a clue where I was going to drive to. The thought of turning up at a friends and having to explain everything seemed overwhelming. I cannot imagine how I would have managed that situation if I had to factor C-19, and the risks of infection into that equation. In the end I overcame my paralysis and went to my parents’ house, the house I grew up in. It was empty, as my parents had been away from home for almost two months. There was no heating, no hot water and no food. I put the children in the living room and made up the fire and I got all the blankets downstairs from the bedroom, and made a little den with four chairs and a sheet. All three of us snuggled up in there on the living room floor and pretended we were camping. I played lullaby music on my phone, and my littlest fell asleep in minutes. My oldest stayed up softly talking to me about all the colours she could see in the fire and making up imaginary stories with me. We didn’t have anything but that cold room and a fire but we felt safe. That memory is with me now as I write about the values of having a place where you and your children can feel safe.

For me, I was able to tell that my situation at home felt unsafe and I could remove myself from it. It made all the difference for my mental health, my children’s wellbeing, and it prevented the domestic situation from escalating.  Part of the mission of STARS is to provide a safe space for its clients to recover from trauma, but during C-19 the government has to meet their responsibility to enable survivors to create safe home, or a safe place to go to, in order to recover. This is a systemic issue, which has to be addressed strategically, with people such as Nicole Jacobs, the domestic abuse commissioner for England and Wales having a presence in and policy and provision planning for this virus. In their recent publication the WHO outline what provisions can be made to address violence against women during the C-19 response. They suggest:

  • Governments and policy makers must include essential services to address violence against women in preparedness and response plans for COVID-19, fund them, and identify ways to make them accessible in the context of physical distancing measures.
  • Health facilities should identify and provide information about services available locally (e.g. hotlines, shelters, rape crisis centres, counselling) for survivors, including opening hours, contact details, and whether services can be offered remotely, and establish referral linkages.
  • Health providers need to be aware of the risks and health consequences of violence against women. They can help women who disclose by offering first-line support and medical treatment. First-line support includes: listening empathetically and without judgment, inquiring about needs and concerns, validating survivors’ experiences and feelings, enhancing safety, and connecting survivors to support services. The use of mHealth and telemedicine in safely addressing violence against women must urgently be explored.
  • Humanitarian response organizations need to include services for women subjected to violence and their children in their COVID-19 response plans and gather data on reported cases of violence against women.
  • Community members should be made aware of the increased risk of violence against women during this pandemic and the need to keep in touch and support women subjected to violence, and to have information about where help for survivors is available. It is important to ensure that it is safe to connect with women when the abuser is present in the home.
  • Women who are experiencing violence may find it helpful to reach out to supportive family and friends, seek support from a hotline, or seek out local services for survivors. They may also find it useful to have a safety plan in case the violence escalates. This includes having a neighbour, friend, relative, or shelter identified to go to should they need to leave the house immediately for safety.

The WHO document shows the part that everyone can play in this pandemic, from community members to healthcare professionals and charities. STARS Dorset has increased its Listening Support Line during COVID-19 and increased its Live Chat capabilities, it has also developed an online assessment team for those who are wanting counselling to help lower waiting times and its Independent Sexual Violence Advisor Service (ISVA) team is working as usual. We are open. And if you can’t create a safe place with a sheet and a fireplace, then we can help you create one here.



Grierson J. (2020) Domestic abuse killings ‘more than double’ amid covid-19 lockdown. Guardian

Roesch E, Amin A, Gupta J, García-Moreno C. (2020).Violence against women during covid-19 pandemic restrictions. BMJ. 7;369

 Smith, K. I . (2020) Counting dead women.

World Health Organisation (2020). COVID-19 and violence against women