Being confined to our homes during the COVID-19 pandemic has been very difficult for all of us. We are bored, worried, and want to return to our normal life quickly. Hopefully, after a few more weeks, we will be able to do so.
Sadly, there are thousands of women and men who will not be able to, because they are trapped inside their homes for years, with no or little access to phones or internet, being verbally, sexually, economically and physically abused.
They are victims of domestic abuse and, unfortunately, there is no escape for them.
Last year, I wrote an article on domestic violence, particularly highlighting this growing and hidden crime within minority ethnic communities. In March, I posted on my social media that “lockdown or coronavirus is not an excuse to commit any crime”, and shared a link for reporting incidents of domestic violence.
In April, the BBC reported that the National Domestic Abuse Helpline had recorded a 25 per cent increase in calls and online requests for help since the lockdown, with other reports identifying an increase in suspected domestic abuse killings.
More recently, I received a call from a new number. The lady on the other end of the line asked if I could speak a certain language. I replied ‘yes’, and she started talking.
“I was born in a very poor family. My parents arranged my marriage and my husband brought me here. I have children from this marriage. After a few years, my husband fell ill and died. He left some money and a house in my name.
“My life changed significantly after his death. My father and brother-in-law moved into our home and they control every aspect of my life. I am not allowed to go out for more than 20-30 minutes, or to call or visit anyone without their permission.
“So-called family members tactically blackmail the victims and exploit their vulnerability”
“They regularly check my bank account, my telephone calls and messages. I cook for everyone and spend almost all day doing domestic chores.
“They are always threatening that, if I will not listen to them, they will take all my money and kick me and my children out of my own house. I am scared that they will hurt my children and we will become homeless.
“I reported this to the police and a local charity, but both told me that I do not have any proof to support my case and, since then, I kept quiet. This thought is even scarier – that I will not be able to get any help from the authorities. Please help me.”
During this conversation, she was crying continuously and disconnected three or four times, as she heard someone walking towards her room. I reassured her and signposted her to relevant authorities.
This is not just a story; this is happening to so many men and women, trapped inside their homes for years without any help or support. Unfortunately, their so-called family members are the perpetrators who tactically blackmail the victims and exploit their vulnerability. In certain communities, it is considered a taboo to discuss or report these crimes.
We must not stay silent. As local councillors, we can help – by raising this issue, reaching out to our residents, and highlighting the local and national services that can help victims of domestic abuse and violence.