Friends and family found creative ways to support women experiencing domestic abuse during COVID-19

In usual times, women experiencing domestic abuse reach out to those around them for support, but the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated social restrictions have made this more difficult to do. New research has found friends, family, neighbours and colleagues (informal supporters) used creative ways to keep in touch with and to continue offering support domestic abuse survivors.

The study by researchers from the Centre for Academic Primary Care and Centre for Gender and Violence Research at the University of Bristol explored how the pandemic had impacted people’s assessment of abusive situations and their ability to provide informal support.

The research team found creative ways informal supporters used to remain in contact included establishing support bubbles with survivors, even at the cost of forming a bubble with another family member or breaking lockdown rules; adapting WhatsApp messages monitored by the perpetrator to keep communication channels open; communicating through a third-party contact; keeping an eye on the survivor’s activity on social media accounts; and bridging the gap when professional services support was affected by the pandemic.

Dr Alison Gregory, Research Fellow (Traumatised and Vulnerable Populations) and lead author of the study, said: “Positive support from friends, family members, neighbours, and colleagues is often vital for women experiencing domestic abuse, and despite the additional challenges presented by the pandemic, many people have remained keen to help. They have found creative solutions for overcoming the obstacles around remaining in touch, and offering assistance, but we need to empower and equip informal supporters, so we don’t impose an impossible burden on them.”

The study, funded by the AXA Research Fund and published in Journal of Family Violence, also found that the pandemic had made it more difficult for informal supporters to read situations and assess risk; perpetrators were exploiting the pandemic to further abuse; and it was more difficult than usual to offer support.

The data were gathered in 18 in-depth interviews with people who knew a female friend, relative, neighbour or colleague who had experienced domestic abuse. Participants were aged 25-69 years, three were men and fifteen were women.

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