The team looking after domestic abuse services in Staffordshire say more and more people are using web chat during the coronavirus lockdown.
But New Era – a service commissioned by Staffordshire County Council, Stoke-on-Trent City Council, and Staffordshire’s police, fire and crime commissioner Matthew Ellis – says the number of people seeking help has remained steady.
There have been fears raised by both the UN and EU that the global coronavirus pandemic would result in a sharp increase in domestic violence, while charity Women’s Aid has also seen a spike in digital users.
New Era helps both the victims and perpetrators of domestic violence – believing there would be no victims if it could tackle the issue at the source.
The service is now keen to remind people it will be operating over the long weekend during lockdown.
Emma Tennant, project communications officer at New Era, said: “The service provides practical support, help, and advice for anyone in Staffordshire about domestic abuse.
“We’re still working as normal through the lockdown but we are having to provide support over the phone because we cannot do our group sessions. These would usually be face-to-face but have had to stop for the time being.
“Although the number of calls we have received during lockdown has remained the same, the way people have been contacting us has changed. More people are contacting us online rather than calling us.
“Why don’t know why but one possibility is that if people are in an abusive relationship or with an abusive carer they might find it easier and safer that way.
“Over Easter things will be running as normal. And we will continue to operate over the weekend.”
New Era handled more than 6,000 inquiries during its first 12 months and provided support for more than 3,000 people across Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent.
Charity Women’s Aid has experienced a 41 per cent increase in people accessing its live chat site in the week between March 26 and April 1 – the start of the UK lockdown.
Its dedicated coronavirus advice page for survivors of domestic abuse has also seen more than 27,000 people logging on since its launch.
Nicki Norman, acting chief executive at Women’s Aid, said: “Covid-19 household-isolation is having a direct impact on survivors with abuse already escalating and we have seen this reflected in demand for our digital services.
“Accessing support online can be a safer option for survivors unable to leave the household as it can be done discreetly, quietly and in private. The restrictions of the pandemic have shut down many physical routes to safety and support.
“Our digital services are here to support survivors during this frightening time but, in an already extremely challenging funding climate, we need urgent funding to be able to continue providing these vital lifelines.”
Staffordshire Police has also raised concerns about children during lockdown and has encouraged parents to monitor their online activities to stop them being abused.
Officers have however not seen an increase in child abuse reports.
Anyone wishing to contact the New Era 24-hour helpline for victims should call 0300 303 778 or visit the website here.
The confidential helpline for perpetrators of domestic abuse who want support to change their abusive behaviour is 01785 601690 – it runs Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm.