Bringing the Shadow Pandemic into the spotlight

'We were isolated and trapped at home with no hope of being able to go out and get help. We found a lifeline of getting help at home.
Faith Regen Foundation client

The looming shadow of domestic violence

Before COVID-19 struck, domestic abuse was already a significant concern in London. Yet, when lockdowns came into force, those affected by violence against women and girls (sometimes referred to as its acronym VAWG) were put at increased risk, as victims became trapped with their abuser. The intensification of reported violence against women since the start of the pandemic – in particular domestic violence – has since been coined the ‘shadow pandemic’.

Calls and web traffic to services supporting victims and survivors increased dramatically in March and April 2020. This grew further still once lockdown was lifted and those who were isolating sought refuge or found time to reach out once their children had returned to school. In addition to increased demand, VAWG services saw increased complexity of cases, which materialised in several intersectional themes across employment, bereavement, counselling, and food support.

At a time when essential services were grinding to a halt or forced to close altogether, many organisations were experiencing staff shortages due to isolation, shielding and burnout. Meanwhile, access to confidential support, advice and refuge became more vital than ever. This increased demand and complexity is still felt today.

Creativity in a crisis

The resourcefulness we experienced with our VAWG Grassroots Fund grantees in response to these effects of the pandemic has been, and continues to be, inspiring. The £3m fund, which runs in partnership with the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime, currently supports a group of 41 community organisations who provide counselling, mentoring and advocacy services for victims of violence against women. The organisations address the complex needs of women with multiple disadvantage, ranging from marginalised women from BAME backgrounds to LGBTQ+ women, disabled women, or women with no recourse to public funds. Read more about the VAWG Grassroots fund here.

Throughout the pandemic, many of these organisations had to rapidly diversify their services. This meant taking them online or over the phone to ensure their service users could still access the support they needed. Some months on from the last lockdown, we heard some of their stories.

COVID might have affected how we bond as a community, but we adapt with the changes and challenges.
Anne Quibael-Forman, Mental Health Support Officer at Kanlungan Filipino Consortium

Kanlungan Filipino Consortium provide group counselling and mentoring services to migrant Filipino, Indonesian and Vietnamese women workers affected by domestic abuse, physical violence and sexual abuse. The pandemic increased demand for their services by 1,000% to around 350 to 400 people per week, with women seeking support for increased abuse, destitution, and financial insecurity. During COVID-19, they received funding from the VAWG Grassroots Fund to set up group online support, community and in-person support, and befriending one-to-one phone support, which they are now expanding. Participants are able to not only safely share their worries but also to connect with other Filipino women who can relate and empathise with their lived experience.

"We responded to the needs of the community by providing a safe space online so people could meet and somehow be together," says Anne Quibael-Forman, a mental health support officer for Kanlungan, "but this is not the same for the women who are living with their perpetrators. For them, home is not a safe space, and staying home means having their guard up all the time. We provided information to equip them on taking care of themselves and becoming more aware of different forms of abuse. We also signpost them to the right help that they need."

Imece is a specialist ‘led by and for’ Black and Minoritised women’s organisation. They support and empower Turkish, Kurdish and Cypriot Turkish women and Black and Minoritised, refugee and migrant women to improve the quality of their lives.

"Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have seen soaring demand," says Senay Dur, Director of Imece. "Black and Minoritised women have been locked in their homes with their perpetrators, and the risk levels we have worked with during both lockdowns were much higher than previous years." Despite of all the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic brought, in addition to the difficulties survivors and specialist organisations already faced, Imece quickly responded to these needs with minimal disruption to the vital work it carries out. They achieved this by moving to virtual platforms, securing hardship funds for service users and increasing staff capacity.

The women we have worked with are now feeling less lonely and better-informed about their rights. They feel empowered. None of this would have been possible without VAWG Grassroots funding.
Roj Women's Association

The Roj Women Association Domestic Violence Services is a bilingual domestic violence support service for Kurdish and Turkish Women. They offer a safe environment where these women can express themselves in their native language without the need for an interpreter. When UK lockdown hit, halting their usual group activities, Roj Women established a telephone hotline service for women who have experienced domestic violence, or any other form of gender-based violence, especially during the official lockdown and subsequently.

The voices featured in this blog provide a snapshot of the situation surrounding violence against women and girls in the post-pandemic world. As services continue to be inundated with requests for support, there has never been a greater need to engage communities around the issue.

Orange the world this November

This November, we will be marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November, followed by 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence until 10 December. During this time, organisations from across the globe will join forces and turn social media orange to increase awareness of this widespread issue. You can join in by downloading free 'Orange the World' resources for your comms.

We will be taking this opportunity to highlight the incredible work of these community partners from across London. Follow the hashtag #VAWGGrassrootsFund to hear more stories.