22 June 2020

How can we help? Coronavirus and victims of violence and abuse

Coronavirus has impacted on each and everyone, and on every community in Wales. The pandemic has shown us that life is not business as usual and, for many, their usual challenges continue to exist and are magnified.

For victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence, this can mean their home or community is not a place of safety. In the past victims might have been able to reach out to others and find some support or somewhere to go where they felt safe, including their university or HE provider, their family and friends, or through hobbies or activities outside the home.

Help from higher education

Universities in Wales are aware of, and have been responding to, the challenges experienced by people facing violence, harassment and abuse, including honour based abuse. We have worked closely with them, and with the Welsh Government, to produce guidance and share information on supporting staff and students, including through sharing case studies that illustrate how universities in Wales are supporting their communities. Our work in Wales is informed by three UK evidence-based Changing the Culture reports, by the Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 and through our ongoing engagement with the Welsh Government’s violence against women team.

With work and social lives now shifting online, we understand that some people may be suffering from coercive control or harassment through online platforms. The move from face-to-face interactions to social distancing and online engagement may increase loneliness, isolation and mental health issues. University staff and students, as peers and colleagues, should be mindful where they see changes in attitudes and/or behaviour that are sustained or exacerbated by the pandemic. Universities should promote available support services. University staff and students can also support victims and survivors of sexual and domestic abuse. The bystander toolkit (and Cymraeg) by Welsh Women’s Aid provides key advice and information for anyone able to help.

What support is available?

Across Wales, a wide range of specialist services are available to help people suffering harassment, domestic abuse and violence under the stay-at-home rules. Welsh Government’s Live Fear Free Helpline is a free 24/7 service for all victims and survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence. The service also provides support to family, friends and colleagues. Support is available by phone (Tel: 0808 8010 800), by text (Tel: 078600 77333), via live chat and also silently if victims are unable to speak. Most importantly if immediate help is required, police will respond to ‘silent’ emergency ‘999’ calls, when ‘55’ is pressed in response to the operator.

This month, the Minister for Education and Minster for Health and Social Services launched the Young Person’s Mental Health Toolkit which highlights support through the hideout, Welsh Women’s Aid and ManKind amongst others. Living and learning fear-free, safe and supported in our homes and communities must be a basic expectation for staff, students and communities. Higher education in Wales is committed to securing this now and in the future, including as we emerge from lockdown.

The higher education community strongly supports Welsh Government campaigns such as ‘Home shouldn’t be a place of fear’ via social media, promoting institutional campaigns, setting out guidance and signposting information. We know that the ongoing pandemic has increased all types of violence. It only becomes more important that we safeguard the most vulnerable in our communities.

Savanna Jones, Widening Access and Inclusion Manager