Study aims to identify best remote support services for domestic violence and abuse survivors in COVID-19 pandemic

Image of woman looking out of a window.
Reports from international governments and charities have demonstrated lockdowns led to increased rates of police callouts and helpline calls relating to domestic violence and abuse.

The University of Birmingham is leading a new study to identify the impact COVID-19 has had on domestic violence and abuse survivors and the best support packages that can be remotely accessed by survivors or those at risk. 

Funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the research is being carried out in collaboration with Oxford Brookes University and two charities working to end domestic abuse - Women’s Aid and WE:ARE Women’s Empowerment And Recovery Educators.

The 15-month study will be delivered via four work packages, and will include interviews with up to 35 domestic violence and abuse survivors, who will also help to identify what factors they consider to be most important in remote solutions which either prevent, identify, or aid those who have experienced domestic violence or abuse.

Dr Joht Singh Chandan, NIHR Clinical Lecturer in Public Health at the University of Birmingham and Co-Chief Investigator of the study, said: “The negative social effects of the public health measures introduced to tackle COVID-19 have begun to unfold, and a concerning area flagged by the World Health Organization and the United Nations is the ‘shadow pandemic’ of domestic violence and abuse.

“Reports from international governments and charities have demonstrated lockdowns led to increased rates of police callouts and helpline calls relating to domestic violence and abuse, while face-to-face interactions were limited due to pandemic restriction measures, therefore we must consider investing in good remote interventions to support survivors or those at risk.

“Recent reports have summarised these possible solutions; however, a common theme is that few solutions have been evaluated thoroughly and even fewer have been designed in partnership with those who have experienced domestic violence and abuse.”

The researchers will carry out a systematic mapping exercise to identify and assess existing remote interventions for domestic violence and abuse in the UK, and will then compile a freely accessible online guidebook of these solutions. They will then rank them to identify the best and most cost-effective existing remote solutions.

Domestic violence and abuse affects more than one in four women in the UK and is associated with a substantial burden of morbidity, mortality and adverse social outcomes. In 2019, the UK government said the total cost per year is estimated to be £60 billion.

Co-Chief Investigator Caroline Bradbury-Jones, Professor of Gender Based Violence and Health at the University of Birmingham, added: “Considering the urgency of the matter as the UK navigates its way out of the pandemic, undertaking research which identifies suitable solutions, which could be implemented around the country, will provide immense benefit to survivors and ultimately save subsequential societal costs.”

Sarah Davidge, Research and Evaluation Manager at Women's Aid Federation of England, said: “Women’s Aid recognises the importance of ensuring survivors of domestic abuse have access to safe and appropriate support at all times, including during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Services have told us that the support they provide to survivors during this time has changed, as they’ve responded to working remotely. This research project offers a much needed opportunity to understand how technology is used to support survivors of domestic abuse. We are pleased to support this research project which will hold voices of survivors at its heart.”

Jacky Mulveen, a survivor of domestic abuse, is Project Manager at WE:ARE Women’s Empowerment and Recovery Educators which supports women who have been subjected to domestic abuse by providing a pathway of trauma-informed psycho-educational awareness and empowerment programmes alongside a range of workshops and creative activities.

Jacky, who will be a co-researcher in this study, said: “As a charity we have seen a surge in demand for our services following COVID-19 and we have had to rapidly find innovative and alternative ways to help survivors to continue to feel connected, cared for and supported.

“Survivors need time to heal after leaving an abuser; the healing process takes time, energy, supportive positive connections and having a ‘space for action’ - without which the abuser can use COVID-19 and the lockdowns to edge their way back into the family home and destroy any improvements the survivors have made in their lives. 

“I am incredibly proud to be playing a key role in this vital research. We hope it will provide the information for local government and policymakers to make the most informed commissioning decisions in order to provide survivors the highest quality support possible.”

The research team also includes Professors Krish Nirantharakumar, Julie Taylor, Siddhartha Bandyopadhyay, and Anindya Banerjee, all of the University of Birmingham, and Professor Jane Appleton, of Oxford Brookes University.

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