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Research points to increased demand on domestic violence services during pandemic

By Alan Beresford

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A COLLABORATIVE research project by Robert Gordon University (RGU) academics has explored how victims of domestic violence were supported throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

It also sheds light on the impact on service providers in north-east Scotland and Orkney.

Professor Sarah Pedersen, of RGU’s School of Creative and Cultural Business, and Dr Natascha Mueller-Hirth from the university’s School of Applied Social Studies, along with research assistant Leia Miller, assessed how support organisations in the region – both third sector and government departments – coped with increased demand for their services over the last year in order to identify challenges and good practice.

Interviews were undertaken with managers of domestic-abuse service providers in Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and Orkney in April and May of this year. The project, which was funded by a RGU Covid-19 pump priming grant, has identified key findings and made recommendations to both the service providers and policymakers in regional and national governments.

Professor Pedersen, principal investigator on the project, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has seen a significant rise in gender-based violence and increased risks of harm for domestic-abuse survivors due to restrictions on movement and an increase in social isolation.

“Gender-based violence is a major public health, equality and human-rights issue. It can result in physical, sexual and psychological harm, often with long-lasting impacts. The pandemic has compounded women’s experiences of violence and abuse and has rendered their needs more complex by preventing their access to basic safety nets.

“In April 2020, the Scottish Government announced additional funding for some domestic abuse charities, acknowledging the increased demand for their services, and the need to change delivery mechanisms, during the pandemic. Spring 2021 thus afforded the perfect time to assess how support organisations in the region coped with increased demand for their services over the last year, and to identify challenges and good practice.”

The research found that the move to online and telephone provision of support proved to be a challenge for support services, with such issues as sourcing technology for volunteers and staff, broadband coverage and the lack of access to technology by users.

The increase in demand across the board also resulted in the introduction of waiting lists, an increase in the number of severe cases and a high demand for refuge accommodation, as well as a struggle to furnish and equip accommodation during lockdown.

The project also found that the closure of courts brought delays and stress for survivors of domestic abuse, who were already struggling with an increase in anxiety levels.

An online webinar exploring the initial findings of this project will be held at 2pm on June 7 and can be booked online via Eventbrite.

The related report and more information can be found online at https://rgu-repository.worktribe.com/output/1346357

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