Male domestic abusers ‘weaponised’ Covid by refusing to wash their hands and continuing to socialise to intensify distress on partners, a shock report found.

Perpetrators used restrictions to diffuse responsibility for their controlling behaviour by touting the message that, “the government is saying you have to stay at home with me”.

Helpline workers reported cases of men purposefully disobeying government guidelines as a new way of abusing partners.

One helpline worker told Scottish researchers: “Women in particular were saying that they were obeying the lockdown measures as much as much as they could.

“And, overwhelmingly male partners, were disregarding the measures. So, going into other people’s houses, going to the pubs when you were still able to do that, and not washing their hands and sort of disregard and disrespecting  those measures specifically as part of the emotional abuse.

Some women reported they were washing their kids after seeing fathers, ”for fear that they may have come into contact with the virus when in their care”.

The Herald:

The report said: “This highlights that abusers viewed government guidelines as opportunities to inflict further abuse onto their victims.”

While participants said the type of abuse experienced remained relatively consistent with previous behaviour, Covid provided a “unique” platform for certain abusive behaviours to “flourish and intensify”.

Dr Zara Brodie, Lecturer in the School of Education and Social Sciences at UWS, said: “Worryingly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, there was consensus across all helpline staff that abusers were weaponising government restrictions and diffusing responsibility for their controlling behaviours.

READ MORE: 'Devastating' lockdown for domestic abuse victims as charges reach record high 

“Many would tell the victim that they didn’t have to stay at home and cease contact with family because they (the abuser) wanted them to, but because the government insisted. 

“Many abusers were also purposefully disobeying government guidelines, with the aim of inciting distress, leaving victims fearful that they or their children might be at increased risk of contracting Covid-19.”

The Herald:

Due to lockdown school closures, children were at a higher risk of witnessing or being a victim or tool for abuse while furlough and other financial implications left victims concerned about their financial security, should they decide to flee the situation. 

However, the research found that for some, the increased intensity of abuse during lockdown served as a “wake up call” that instigated their decision to flee  the relationship.  

This was often  due  to an increased  escalation  of  abuse  and  no  longer feeling able to manage.

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One worker talked of victims needing a plan of action “instantly” because they were at breaking point.

“That is really rare that you get a woman literally say they need out immediately, usually they just want some information to weight up their options. But a lot of the phone calls now, I get the sense they are at breaking point.”

The research was carried out by the University of the West of Scotland and Strathclyde in April 2021 as part of a broader UK-wide study looking at the experiences of helpline staff.

Five charities offering support to women, men, young people and the LGBTQ+ population were approached to take part.

One worker said there was a sharp rise in the number of cases escalated to multi-agency crisis meetings.

“We  used  to  do  meetings  where  you  would  hear  6/7  cases  maybe  on  average.  There have been [meetings] of 14/15 cases, which is really really unheard of.”

READ MORE: Where in Scotland has domestic abuse risen most in the past year?

Concerns about a rise in domestic abuse incidents during the pandemic are backed by a number of studies, world-wide.

Stay-at-home orders implemented by governments unintentionally elevated the threat of abuse for those living with an abusive partner.

The report said lessons should be learned from the pandemic about the withdrawal of face-to-face support services.
Participants were consistent in highlighting how a withdrawal of support  and government messages about service pressures left victims  unsure  of  where  to turn to.

For some women accessing  support  online  simply “wasn’t achievable” because opportunities to seek help over the phone or online were restricted.

However, support workers said that for some victims of abuse in rural areas, the shift to online counselling was beneficial as many would have struggled to access face-to-face services ordinarily.

Participants  who  worked  for  male  victim-focused  charities  said   social restriction significantly reduced their ability to remove themselves from the abusive situation when it became severe.

Dr Zara Brodie added:”These findings will act as a crucial guide for policy decision-making regarding support needs of domestic abuse victims and survivors emerging from the pandemic and beyond.”