Following Priti Patel’s Advice Would Be A ‘Disaster’ To Survivors Of Domestic Violence
In recent weeks, we’ve been told the same thing over and over again: stay inside and save lives. It’s that simple.
Except, is it really? For the majority of us, yes. As difficult as it might seem to be out of your usual routine and to not see your loved ones for the foreseeable future, we know we’re doing it for the right reasons. To protect our NHS and flatten the curve.
But for those people who are stuck in isolation with an abusive partner, being told to stay inside and save lives might just be putting their own lives in danger, something that is already having fatal consequences.
Last week, the UK’s largest domestic abuse charity, Refuge, reported a 120% increase in calls to its helpline in a single day, while yesterday it was revealed domestic abuse killings have ‘more than doubled’ amid the current crisis.
As these figures came to light, Home Secretary Priti Patel was forced to respond to claims the UK government had taken too long to respond to this surge in domestic violence. However, while insisting help for all survivors of abuse was available, the home secretary gave misleading information that ultimately could have put lives at risk.
While speaking on This Morning, Patel attempted to explain the process in which survivors can get through to the police on the silent helpline, stating: ‘If they can’t speak over the phone they can call 999 and press 55, which is a silent helpline.’
At best, this advice was incorrect. At worst? It was extremely dangerous, with 999 operator James Gordon saying it would be a ‘disaster’ for those in a genuine emergency to follow Patel’s advice as pressing 55 at the start of the call is ‘more than likely’ going to result in your call being deemed a non-emergency.
Instead, the correct advice would be for those in immediate danger to ring 999, then wait until you hear an operator speak. If you remain silent, they will prompt you to ‘tap the handset, cough or make a noise’ if you are unable to speak but require emergency assistance.
At this point, if you press a key – any key – it will be taken as a direct response and the call will be connected to the police. If you haven’t responded, but the operator has heard other background voices during the call, you may be put through to an automated service which will then prompt you to press 55.
It’s absolutely vital we get the correct information out there for those who most need it. Otherwise, the consequences could well be fatal, with a spokesperson for Women’s Aid telling UNILAD ‘misinformation, incorrect or wrong information can endanger the lives of survivors’.
In one such situation, 36-year-old Kerry Power was murdered by her ex-partner after being told by police they responded to silent 999 calls. However, the ‘silent solution’ protocol was not properly explained to her and when her ex broke into her home, her 999 call was terminated without a response.
Kerry, a primary school administrative assistant, had believed if you simply rang up and put the phone to one side police would still be dispatched. Instead, her call was cut off and nobody was sent to her aid, with her former partner, David Wilder, strangling her that same night.
At the time, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) made national recommendations to ensure better accountability for the ‘silent solution’ and for its effectiveness to be reviewed, The Guardian reported.
Since then, several campaigns have been launched to raise awareness about the system, including ‘Make Yourself Heard‘, which sets out how to properly use the helpline without putting yourself in danger.
Lisa Johnson, Manager of Direct Services at Women’s Aid, said:
Many abusers will threaten to hurt or even kill them if they try to speak out about the abuse.
This means that for far too long many women have not been able to access the emergency support they so desperately need from the police.
Johnson said the organisation was ‘pleased’ to be raising awareness of the system via the campaign so ‘survivors can call 999 without putting themselves at further risk and prevent further lives, like that of Kerry Power, from being taken’.
It’s never been more important to get this information out there to those in abusive relationships, particularly because domestic violence charities have seen a surge in the number of people calling them for help across the country.
As well as seeing a 120% increase in calls to its helpline in just one day, Refuge has seen a massive 700% increase in online traffic to its National Domestic Abuse Helpline website.
Not only that, but it has emerged the number of suspected domestic abuse killings has more than doubled in the UK since lockdown measures were imposed, according to data from Counting Dead Women.
Karen Ingala Smith, the founder of the project – which records the killing of women by men in the UK – has identified at least 16 killings between 23 March and 12 April. Looking at the same period over the last 10 years, Smith’s data records an average of five deaths.
Smith’s findings, which have been collated from internet searches and people contacting the project over social media, were raised during evidence to the home affairs select committee yesterday, April 15.
Dame Vera Baird QC, the victims’ commissioner for England and Wales, told MPs, as per The Guardian: ‘Counting Dead Women has got to a total of 16 domestic abuse killings in the last three weeks. We usually say there are two a week, that looks to me like five a week, that’s the size of this crisis.’
As Dame Vera said, this is a crisis. And it’s not one that’s going to be solved with the spread of misinformation, which is why it’s so vital to get the facts out there.
So for those of you who are in an abusive relationship and are seeking help, Lisa Johnson from Women’s Aid has compiled a list of things you can do to keep yourself and your family safe – while reiterating that in an emergency, you should always call the police using 999.
This list, seen by UNILAD, includes: rehearsing an escape plan so you can get away safely in an emergency; packing an emergency bag and hiding it somewhere safe, for example in the garden or a shed; keeping a small amount of money on you at all times; and trying to keep your mobile with you at all times.
Women’s Aid also advises that if you suspect you’re in immediate danger, you should try to go to a lower risk area of the house – for example where there is a way out and access to a phone. You should avoid the kitchen or garage (where there are likely to be knives and other weapons) and avoid rooms where you might be trapped, such as the bathroom.
Sandra Horley CBE, Chief Executive of Refuge, said:
If it is too difficult to make a call, women can also access support online, filling in a web form, indicating a safe and secure time to be contacted.
Isolation is often used as a tool to abuse – and while the current lockdown has the potential to exacerbate abuse – it is not the reason for it. Domestic abuse is a crime and is ultimately rooted in power and control. Violence is a choice a man makes. He alone is responsible for it.
Women experiencing domestic abuse are not alone. Refuge is here to support women today, tomorrow, and in the future. I urge any woman who needs help to contact us, and to know that there is support available.
Support is always available for those who need it, it’s just a case of getting the information out there in the right way and on the right channels. More importantly, it’s about getting it out there in a factual way which won’t endanger lives.
If you are concerned about a loved one, or about isolating with a perpetrator, call the National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247 or contact the Helpline via Refuge’s contact form at www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk. To ensure your safety, let them know how to contact you and what time to contact you. In an emergency, always be ready to call 999 if you are in danger.
It’s okay to not panic about everything going on in the world right now. LADbible and UNILAD’s aim with our campaign, Cutting Through, is to provide our community with facts and stories from the people who are either qualified to comment or have experienced first-hand the situation we’re facing. For more information from the World Health Organization, click here.
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National Domestic Abuse Helpline