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Covid-19 leads to spike in domestic violence

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Reports of domestic incidents including verbal attacks more than doubled during lockdown compared with the previous month, police data showed.

In April, the Bermuda Police Service recorded 81 domestic incidents after 35 cases in March.

A spokesman explained: “These figures represent the total of physical and non-physical [verbal] incidents and the parties include all persons who fall under the ‘domestic violence category' meaning spouse on spouse, sibling on sibling, child on parent, etc.”

The island's shelter-in-place period, when only essential workers could leave their homes unless the journey was for food, medicine, petrol or because of a medical emergency, ran from April 4 to May 2.

Police received 47 and 52 reports of domestic incidents in January and February respectively.

Separately, the Centre Against Abuse said that safe-space requests were fulfilled for 16 people and their children over about six weeks as the island grappled with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Laurie Shiell, its executive director, explained that a combination of need and increased funding meant that the extent of the organisation's services grew in April and into May.

She said last Thursday: “Since March 30, we have assisted 16 individuals with safe housing through the period, or getting to a safe space actually ... 17 kids were attached to those 16 individuals.

“In total, we have serviced 56 clients during that same period, it's been very busy.”

Ms Shiell continued: “I've worked on at least nine to ten protection orders during that time as well.”

Ms Shiell said persons in safe housing received services such as counselling, help to talk to a lawyer or police, and groceries.

She added: “We more or less have a phased approach with our safe housing where we assist them for two months, during that time they are looking for new accommodations.”

Ms Shiell said, in relation to safe housing: “Normally we assist maybe two or three people a year.”

But she explained that the practices usually employed to help domestic-abuse survivors could not always be adopted in the past two months. Instead, she said, it was important to remove the people affected and get them to a safe place.

Ms Shiell added that funding usually limited the number of safe-space placements, but that had recently changed thanks to the generosity of island residents.

She explained: “Now that we have more funding, we can assist more people as well.

“The majority of our funding has come from the Bermuda Community Foundation.

We are really excited that they have been able to assist us at this time. It was already deemed that domestic abuse would increase based on statistics from everyone else that had gone on lockdown.

“Very early on, the Government deemed us an essential service, so it's just worked really well to assist everyone that was in need.”

Ms Shiell believed financial donations to the third sector had increased since the impact of the coronavirus became apparent.

She said: “We have seen giving beyond our wildest dreams.

“We are just absolutely thankful and grateful for every single person ... our clients have been blessed because of this giving and we are able to assist them right on the spot when they say, I need some place to stay.”

Ms Shiell added that ties with other agencies including Family Centre, government departments, the police and the Bermuda Housing Corporation had been key.

She said: “We have been grateful for all of those organisations that we have worked with to ensure that clients' needs are met.”

Ms Shiell explained that some people could have been forced to leave a home before or during the shelter-in-place period or they might have feared the consequences of being stuck at home in an abusive relationship and took the step to leave.

She added: “They recognised that being with this person 24-7 was not for them and it pushed them to do something, it pushed them to actually make a decision for them and their children.”

Ms Shiell said: “One of the things when it comes to domestic abuse is that individuals stay because of finances, or go back because of finances, and so this is why this whole programme is put in place not just to help you get to a place of safety but to help you get to a place where you are psychologically being reprogrammed through our counselling as well as being assisted financially.”

A number of factors, including religious reasons and language barriers, can make it difficult for someone to leave an abusive relationship, she said.

Ms Shiell added: “You may be filled with so much guilt and shame; you stay for the children because you think you want your children to have a family; you stay because you love the person; you stay because you're scared — ‘this person told me they will kill me if I leave them, and I believe it'; you stay because you already isolated yourself from your family and friends.”

She said: “People who show up to our doors and make the step to leave, and leave permanently, we applaud them for their courage.

“It is hard, you're leaving a person that you love ... a person that you care about, a person that may be the parent of your children and so it's almost like a death for some and they go through that same process when it comes to dealing with grief.

“You go through anger, you go through sadness, you go through ‘why me?'

“Then you finally get to the stage of acceptance.”

The Centre Against Abuse runs a 24-hour hotline on 297-8278

Dramatic increase: during the first month of the novel coronavirus-related lockdown and curfew, April 2020, the Bermuda Police Service recorded 81 domestic incidents compared to 35 in March (Graphic by Christina White)
Protection orders: Laurie Shiell, the executive director of the Centre Against Abuse

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Published May 20, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated May 20, 2020 at 7:32 am)

Covid-19 leads to spike in domestic violence

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