‘It goes on everywhere behind closed doors’ – Q&A with Herts helpline on rise in domestic abuse over lockdown

"We took fairly immediate action to set up a confidential email address to supplement our phone line, because it might be...

"We took fairly immediate action to set up a confidential email address to supplement our phone line, because it might be easier for people to mail rather than to phone." Picture: Herts Domestic Abuse Helpline - Credit: Archant

As part of our county-wide domestic abuse special report, Herts Ad reporter Maya Derrick speaks to a trustee from the Herts Domestic Abuse Helpline about the impact of COVID-19 on the services they provide, and how you can play your part in supporting those in need

"We miss because we’re closed or if we’re busy, or if people just abandon the calls, and that does happen quite a lot.

"We miss because we’re closed or if we’re busy, or if people just abandon the calls, and that does happen quite a lot. They get as far as dialling the number and they lose their bottle and hang up.” Picture: Herts Domestic Abuse Helpline - Credit: Archant

Q: Has there been a surge in women, or people in general, using the helpline?

A: “When lockdown first started, one of the things we were very conscious of was that victims were going to be locked down with perpetrators, and that was going to make it very difficult for them to seek help. We took fairly immediate action to set up a confidential email address to supplement our phone line, because it might be easier for people to mail rather than to phone.

“We didn’t see, like we were expecting, a big increase in calls in the early days of lockdown, but since lockdown eased, we have seen an increase. We’re about 25 per cent up this year on last year in terms of calls.”

Q: Has demand been able to be met, for example with staffing?

“We didn’t see, like we were expecting, a big increase in calls in the early days of lockdown, but since lockdown eased...

“We didn’t see, like we were expecting, a big increase in calls in the early days of lockdown, but since lockdown eased, we have seen an increase. We’re about 25 per cent up this year on last year in terms of calls.” Picture: Herts Domestic Abuse Helpline - Credit: Archant


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A: “The other step that we took when we were trying to decide what possible things might happen, we have started double-manning the rota at what we thought were going to be the peak times. Thankfully, because our volunteers work from home, we have been fairly well able to continue to man the rota, even with the double-manning. There have been unfortunate gaps but, for the most part, we have managed to fulfil the rota and pick up the calls.

“We use a cloud-based telephone system now, so we are able to track when calls come in that we miss because we’re closed or if we’re busy, or if people just abandon the calls, and that does happen quite a lot. They get as far as dialling the number and they lose their bottle and hang up.”

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Q: Are you accepting more volunteers?

A: “We can’t, unfortunately, just accept everyone who comes forward, lovely though that would be. The fact is, there is a training and selection process. In the early days of lockdown, we had a real struggle as to how to run that training.

“When lockdown first started, one of the things we were very conscious of was that victims were going to be locked down...

“When lockdown first started, one of the things we were very conscious of was that victims were going to be locked down with perpetrators, and that was going to make it very difficult for them to seek help." Picture: Herts Domestic Abuse Helpline - Credit: Archant

“The first few calls really are rather daunting when you go on the line. We did have some folks who were already volunteers who were able to do some extra hours because of furlough and so on.”

Q: Why is it so important that we raise awareness about domestic abuse?

A: “I can’t stress enough that this covers all strata of society. It’s not only people who live in really quite impoverished circumstances that suffer from domestic abuse. We’ve had all sorts of people calling the line. It goes on everywhere behind closed doors.”

Q: What is defined as abuse? I’m assuming it doesn’t have to be physical or even intently verbal?

“Most of the calls we take could just as easily be from anywhere because the issues and concerns that the callers are...

“Most of the calls we take could just as easily be from anywhere because the issues and concerns that the callers are raising are fairly ubiquitous." Picture: Herts Domestic Abuse Helpline - Credit: Archant

A: “One of the stories that we continually get told on calls, is that it starts off as something really loving. All the attention and messaging several times a day comes from a great place and makes the person that is suffering feel fantastic, and gradually, it becomes controlling, and it takes people a long time to realise that’s what’s happening.”

Q: This is clearly happening on a national level. Are there any things Herts-wide specific you want to bring our attention to?

A: “Most of the calls we take could just as easily be from anywhere because the issues and concerns that the callers are raising are fairly ubiquitous. There isn’t anything specific to this county.

“We’re there to help. We cant do much in the way of prevention, other than raising awareness. Raising awareness generally of what abuse is, how it can be, how it can impact people. We’re at the other end picking up the pieces.”

Picture: Herts Domestic Abuse Helpline

Picture: Herts Domestic Abuse Helpline - Credit: Archant

Q: There is so much information out there, it’s quite hard to sometimes comprehend it all...

A: ...and that’s why the helpline was invented. There are so many agencies in Hertfordshire that a victim can go to, the last thing they want to be doing is fumbling their way through, and that’s what we’re there for. We’re there to find a path through all those agencies, pick out the ones we think might be of the most help. That’s our USP, if you like.

“Ultimately, the decision is with them. We don’t take referrals, we don’t make referrals, and we don’t take details, so the final decision about what they do is up to them, but we try and provide as much information as possible.”

For more information about the work that Herts Domestic Abuse Helpline does, visit hertsdomesticabusehelpline.org.

“All the attention and messaging several times a day comes from a great place and makes the person that is suffering feel...

“All the attention and messaging several times a day comes from a great place and makes the person that is suffering feel fantastic, and gradually, it becomes controlling, and it takes people a long time to realise that’s what’s happening.” Picture: Herts Domestic Abuse Helpline - Credit: Archant

If you need support, you can contact the helpline confidentially and anonymously by calling 08088 088088, or by emailing kim@mailpurple.org.

For ways to donate to the helpline, hertsdomesticabusehelpline.org/donate.

"We took fairly immediate action to set up a confidential email address to supplement our phone line, because it might be...

"We took fairly immediate action to set up a confidential email address to supplement our phone line, because it might be easier for people to mail rather than to phone." Picture: Herts Domestic Abuse Helpline - Credit: Archant

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