This blog was first published by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust on the 26th August 2020.
Looking back, thanks to Covid-19, the last few months have felt like a relentless succession of changes. A lockdown on an unprecedented scale has given way to an opening up that brings relief but also anxiety, while what comes next seems uncertain - not least because of the reimposition of restrictions in some areas.
One issue that has caught public attention during lockdown is domestic abuse. Some of that increased attention has explored the impact of Covid-19 itself, as many people were literally compelled to stay with an abuser as a result of lockdown. Others found themselves distanced from support, while abusers were able to exploit the fear or consequences of the pandemic to abuse.
Despite welcome attention to domestic abuse, the experience of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGBT) people was often absent from the public conversation. That’s despite evidence that rates of domestic abuse amongst those who are LGBT are at least as high as for heterosexual women. At the same time, LGBT domestic abuse is often under-reported. Together, these reflect a range of issues. LGBT people are not necessarily part of the ‘public story’ of who is affected by domestic abuse, which may make it hard to identify their experiences. Even if someone does want to access help and support, they may be unsure of where to go for help and support, worried their needs won’t be understood or fearful of discrimination. A briefing prepared by Galop, an LGBT anti-violence charity, provides a good summary of these issues.
These already extensive challenges may have been exacerbated by a host of other issues as a result of Covid-19. Some LGBT people don’t have a safe space to live and may have been forced to move back in with family who do not accept their sexual orientation or gender identity. Meanwhile, a study by researchers at University College London and the University of Sussex has reported that lockdown has provoked a mental health crisis amongst the LGBT community. The study has also highlighted that many have faced discrimination during the pandemic because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
My Churchill Fellowship was about domestic abuse, focused on the tragic circumstances where someone has been killed by an abuser, or perhaps died by suicide. I looked at how different countries – Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States – investigate these deaths. England and Wales also have a similar system, called ‘Domestic Homicide Reviews’, and I wanted to bring back learning to help improve practice here. The principle behind these investigations is simple: by understanding what happened, it is possible to identify learning. Armed with that knowledge, changes can then be made by training and awareness-raising, through to policy and practice, which could make a difference in the future.
Those kinds of changes only come about when we work together, which is often called a ‘coordinated community response’. This is basically the idea that agencies, professionals and communities need to step back and see the big picture, and then work out the part each can play in helping people to find safety and holding abusers to account.
My Churchill Fellowship was a reminder of the importance of that kind of joint work. When I was thinking about LGBT domestic abuse and Covid-19, I count myself lucky that I am part of a network of practitioners and researchers with an interest in LGBT domestic abuse. We have been able to share our knowledge to try and make sure that LGBT domestic abuse is on the radar and have worked together to produce guidance for friends and family. We produced this guidance to reach out to victims and survivors, as well as to family and friends, to make sure people knew how to get help and support. As a network, our hope was that guidance can raise awareness, particularly as LGBT people are more likely to seek support from family and friends. Perhaps it can also help to encourage services and the government to think about LGBT people too when producing their own campaigns.
As we work our way through and hopefully beyond Covid-19, I’m hopeful that the increased attention on domestic abuse will be sustained. I’m also hopeful that we will remember some of the lessons learnt, including the importance of trying to ensure that LGBT domestic abuse is recognised and addressed.