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Coronavirus / Lockdown puts additional strain on victims of domestic abuse

THE ONGOING ‘stay at home’ message to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus is putting additional pressure on those affected by domestic and sexual abuse, according to local professionals working in the field.

Laura Stronach of Shetland Women’s Aid and Lisa Ward of Shetland Rape Crisis both said the feeling of being trapped and the lack of social interaction was putting their clients’ coping mechanisms under severe strain.

While both services have seen no immediate increase in the number of referrals that could be linked to coronavirus, there is no doubt that the existing workload has become more complex and challenging.

Both women said that a “surge” in referrals was likely to hit the services once lockdown measures start to be lifted in the future.

Shetland Women’s Aid manager Laura Stronach.

Stronach said: ”Experience shows that is takes weeks and months before people have been able to process and analyse what has been going on.

“I think a lot of people are in survival mode right now and try to get through this, and will make their move once the lockdown starts to be lifted.”

The consequences of being trapped in an abusive relationship while lockdown conditions prevail have been acknowledged by the first minister Nicola Sturgeon on several occasions during her daily Covid-19 press briefings.

Stronach said one of the positives of the current situation was the enhanced recognition and appreciation of the services available to victims of domestic and sexual abuse, better partnership working as well as additional funding that is being made available.

Explaining the impact the lockdown situation has on clients, Stronach said some clients were regressing because the lockdown situation has disrupted them – “for example, they go back into recovery and are needing emotional and practical support rather than continuing with their therapy”.

“The lockdown is triggering the feeling of being trapped and controlled…it retriggers the trauma they are trying to recover from,” she continued.

“It is quite challenging because it is all happing at the same time which makes each care worker’s caseload increase although the number of cases has not increased.”

Speaking for Shetland Rape Crisis, Lisa Ward said she and her team have made very similar observations. Due to the circumstances of lockdown many traumas are being amplified, she said.

“We are seeing a lot more acute trauma symptoms such as flashbacks, dissociation, anxiety, depression, and we are seeing these more acutely with the service users we are working with,” Ward said.

Shetland Rape Crisis service manager Lisa Ward.

“People usually cope with trauma through a variety of different ways and that very often involves social contact, gyms, clubs and hobbies.

“Traumas are being amplified, and that is for people whose home situation are safe.”

Ward said the team had been working to identify the different client needs and was making sure those needs were being met.

“It’s been a case of adapting everything we do, making sure it is safe, secure and confidential, and it will be delivered remotely,” she said.

“The important thing for trauma service users is that nothing has changed except that currently we can’t be in front of a person, but hopefully everything else is still the same in terms of the outcome.”

Stronach said the lockdown has had some unexpected and positive consequences such as greater flexibility in work practices, much improved access to national online training courses, as well as new funding opportunities.

“There is money coming our way right now, the only issue is that people maybe expecting us to do over and above of what we are normally doing.

“Our services are more needed than ever before – and I feel we are being looked after,” she said.