May 1 2020
Note on the series
Autonomy is running a Stories From the Frontline series of testimonies that aims to capture what it is like to be a key worker during this COVID-19 crisis. We’ve put a call out asking for those currently working in key roles to reflect on their working life at the moment. We want to give our contributors a wide berth in terms of what they can speak about: some discuss politics, others discuss their immediate feelings; some focus on their day to day tasks, others reflect on the sector as a whole; some are angry at management, others talk about what their customers or clients are experiencing. We feel it is important to hear as ‘raw’ an account as possible: needless to say, these testimonies reflect the individual authors’ views only.
We’ve kept each testimony anonymous and have edited out any possible identifiers of the workplace involved.
I am an Independent Domestic Violence Advocate working in a very rural area within the UK. We have a population of 100,000+ and I work with high risk victims of domestic and sexual abuse from age 16+. Prior to COVID, I would visit clients who needed my support at home when it was safe to do so or in the local community in cafes, at schools and community centres.
Within this sector and particularly in the area I live in, a lot of clients tend to be repeat clients. However, recently we have been referred clients where this is the first time they have ever contacted an agency for support. We are finding that some victims with perpetrators at home are growing desperate and feeling almost cornered into calling the police for support whereas they wouldn’t usually, as they have been unable to escape their day to day on the school run or going to visit family, for example.
This has added to a growing concern around how the lockdown will affect many of our clients. Often, leaving the house is the window of opportunity they have in order to feel safe or to connect with other people; going to the local shops, speaking to neighbours or doing the school run. This is also the case for the children that we support who often seek solace at school or with their only real nutritious meal being provided at school. For some families we have supported this lack of food may be due to financial abuse within the home or because the perpetrator may control when the family can and can’t eat and what they are allowed to eat.
On the other hand, for some clients who do not live with their perpetrators, they have actually felt safer – this is because their perpetrator has been restricted in travelling and the clients therefore feel safer in their homes; it could appear that to some perpetrators facing a fine for not social distancing is more concerning to them than the harm they would cause their ex-partner or children in harassing them at home and therefore the former is a deterrent.
I work in a really close-knit team. We all support each other and are there to give each other advice because there is a lot of pressure when supporting vulnerable people, particularly if they are high risk or have additional needs; it is important to have people there to turn to for support and advice. Working from home has been difficult as it has often felt as though we are alone in the work we are doing and the support we are offering. It is common for people in this line of work to suffer from secondary trauma from the experiences we hear and support we provide on a day to day basis.
Friends and colleagues of mine in the police force of the nearby counties have told me that the majority of those they now hold in their cells are perpetrators of domestic abuse. I have friends and colleagues within Children’s Services who have also echoed the rise in referrals: they are now seeing DV as an element in around 70/80% of their cases. There is also a rise in the need for refuge, which I have seen amongst clients and professionals calling in.
Recently I was referred a case by a social worker who was almost in tears due to concerns for the client’s safety and wanting an immediate response from our service, often we are seen as the only solution as opposed to part of what should be a robust safety and support plan to help the client and to address the perpetrator’s behaviour. I think it is often forgotten that we are a small charity trying to pool our resources together in this hard time while still trying to maintain a sense of normality ourselves.
Discussing within our team we feel there may be an influx of referrals in our local area when the social restrictions end. When perpetrators are allowed to return to pubs and bars we will likely see a rise in DV incidents and police call-outs, as there is a strong link between alcohol consumption and incidents of DV as well as the fact that perpetrators will then be allowed to roam freely. I still love my role and the support that I am able to offer victims of domestic abuse but this experience as well as personal losses since COVID have added immense pressure to the role; I have felt the impact on my own well-being as well as that of the families I support.
We’re looking for testimonies from those continuing to work during this crisis. In the main, this should be key workers. If this is you, then please be in touch!
This is meant to reflect what it’s like to work as you, right now, on the job. This is *not* meant to be an academic paper or a mere record of events.
What is your day to day experience of the job? What is your workplace like? What do you hear from your colleagues about the sector as a whole? What has changed since COVID? How is your relationship with your employer?
All testimonies will be published anonymously or using pseudonyms where relevant.
Please email no more than 800 words to: firstname.lastname@example.org