Lockdown has been tough for all of us, but I have been in a state of worry and fear I have never before felt as chief executive of Jewish Women’s Aid. Every day there’s been a media report of domestic abuse, some escalating to murder.
On average two women a week are tragically killed by their abusive partners in the UK and, under lockdown, this figure has soared. Domestic abuse agencies up and down the country, and also internationally have, as one, reported consistent increases in demand for their services. Women, where they can, are reaching out for support more desperately and urgently than before. We have seen the same at JWA.
During this crisis we have provided support, advocacy, reassurance and counselling for almost one third more women than we would normally expect over this period. While we continue to support women affected by all types of abuse, we have had more cases of escalation of physical violence as well as physical violence being threatened. The women we support are also more likely to call the police, where they haven’t before.
Women typically minimise the severity of the abuse they are experiencing. I have lost count of the number of women who have told me that with every abusive episode comes an apology, a gift, a promise never to do it again. And all those women accepted the apology or the gift or the promise. But they also held in the corner of their minds the knowledge that they could make a call, go for a drive, move in with a friend. They had an escape route.
Be in no doubt – it’s not lockdown or COVID 19 that is to blame for the escalation in abuse. It’s the opportunism of the perpetrators who know their victims’ chances of accessing help are limited, who have greater opportunity and are taking advantage of it. It is also of course the limited escape routes from lockdown for the women that cause huge concern.
It’s hard to make a phone call, pop in to a friend for advice, alert a neighbour or colleague if you are stuck at home with your abuser.
I am glad that through the generosity of one donor we have been able to offer extra financial assistance to dozens of women, and helped them to cover their living expenses, petrol money, rent and also provide laptops and tablets for their children. We have also continued to offer emergency accommodation, counselling, therapy for children, and hours of reassurance, advocacy, support and practical help for hundreds of women. But owing to the increase in demand for our services, as well as the cancellation of our dinner, we have needed to launch a fundraising appeal.
A former client has bravely come forward to support our campaign with a video on social media in which she says, “I have nightmares every night because I know if I was living in lockdown with my ex-husband and my four children, I would be dead today and my four children would be in care.”
Domestic abuse is happening in our community. Jewish Women’s Aid is the only organisation which is here to support Jewish women and children who have experienced domestic abuse. We need to be here now to support all the women who have bravely managed to make contact with us. And we need to be here in the future, when lockdown eases and when all the women who are living in fear are eventually able to get in touch with us to take that tentative first step to their new future.
In order for us to do that, we need you, the community, alongside us – investing in us and supporting us. We need to blow away the taboos around domestic abuse so that women living in fear can reach out for support, safe in the knowledge that they will be believed and that they won’t be doubted.
We need your help to remove the stigma which still surrounds this horror. We need you to help us to be there for every single Jewish woman who is scared and who is being abused in her own home.
- Donations to the Jewish Women’s Aid appeal can be made at jwa.org.uk/appeal