No. 12 in a series of articles reporting on the responses of Caritas member organisations to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The scale of domestic abuse is higher than most people realise and the pandemic has made things worse”, according to Nikki Dhillon Keane of Caritas Westminster’s Deaf Service. She reported that numbers accessing helplines and websites of the main domestic violence organisations have “skyrocketed” and domestic abuse murders have increased. “The idea of victims needing to leave their marriage for safety and of families splitting up is very uncomfortable for many Catholics because of the primacy of marriage and family life”.
She reported that there has been “some exemplary support from priests and parish communities”. However, “there are plenty of examples of misinformed advice and sometimes spiritual abuse, that means using a twisted form of faith teaching to encourage someone to stay with an abuser, or to accept blame inappropriately for the abuse they have been subjected to”. She said: “It is my life’s aim to make sure that everyone who seeks support in the Church has a safety-focused and informed response.”
Nikki said, “We need to be prepared that as lockdown is lifted there may be a huge influx of calls from victims and survivors who can finally safely ask for help,” she warned, and “there may also be a rise in murders as perpetrators realise they are losing control”.
The Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has published guidance for parishes on domestic abuse during the pandemic. The bishops’ website informs about support agencies and documents showing that the position of the Catholic Church is categorically that domestic abuse in all forms is wrong, and that the safety of victims, survivors and children is paramount.
“This means that a victim or survivor who leaves an abusive spouse has the full support of the Church” said Nikki. Another initiative has been producing leaflets and stickers for Churches to put in toilets so victims can privately see information about getting help,” and, importantly, “the message that they have the right to be safe”.
Nikki has given domestic abuse awareness training to catechetical co-ordinaters, safeguarding teams, priests’ groups, Catholic school staff, diocesan teams and Marriage Care, which has a domestic abuse protocol.
This post is adapted from an article by Ellen Teague, first published in ‘The Tablet’ in association with CSAN.