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The month of October is being marked as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month 2020, a worldwide campaign to raise awareness of domestic abuse.
In the UK, the government had earmarked a £10-million emergency to support domestic abuse victims and their families, particularly affected by the coronavirus pandemic. UK Minister for Rough Sleeping and Housing Kelly Tolhurst recently announced that a 25 charities will receive a share of a further £1 million boost to this Covid-19 related funding, which includes the Birmingham-based charity Roshni – working to protect ethnic minority communities affected by domestic abuse, including forced marriage and honour-based abuse, including through a 24-hour, multilingual helpline.
‘iGlobal’ caught up with Surwat Sohail, CEO of Roshni Birmingham, to find out more about how they aim to use these funds and explore the challenges faced by grassroots organisations such as these in the current climate.
For charities like Roshni, which like many other organisations are adjusting to a change in the way they run their services during lockdown, the booster funding could not have arrived at a more crucial time.
“Many of the women who come through our doors, arrive wearing the clothes they are left in or even in their slippers and pyjamas. The funding has allowed us to buy emergency food and clothing, meaning this is available at the moment it is needed,” explains Sohail.
One of the key problems Roshni faced during the current Covid-19 pandemic was with staff working from home (WFH).
She explains: “Our systems are very simple where WFH staff can only transfer to one person. If that one person is on another line, the line is then engaged. So, when you transfer calls it only goes to one person and then everybody has to wait.
“We were getting a lot of complaints as people couldn’t get through to us and it left us with no choice but to bring staff back into the office.”
The funding received has allowed Roshni to put in place a new telephone system, without which Sohail feels the charity would have really struggled. The additional funds have also gone towards providing hand sanitisers, face masks, refurbishment of the garden at Roshni, and towards additional counselling services and support.
She said: “One of the children here actually said it feels like when we were at home – told we can’t come out of our room or we were too scared to do so. We feel like that because of Covid-19, we can’t go out.
“So, we are hoping now with the counselling services in place, we can start making some progress with them.”
The surge in domestic abuse cases is an unanticipated side-effect of the pandemic and brings in new challenges for victims, charities, and organisations who provide supporting services.
For victims of domestic abuse, the added measure of staying/working at home can prevent women from fleeing their abusers and securing their personal safety. With traditional routes for help and support like schools, GPs, and workplaces closed, the isolation of victims could exacerbate domestic abuse.
“The coronavirus pandemic presents new risks to victims who find themselves either being at home or working from home, making it hard for one to make that call for help. Helplines and chatlines are both closed after 5 pm, where is the victim meant to go,” says Sohail, who recalls how one victim had to send pictures of her abuse through social media as she was unable to get through to any helplines.
“At Roshni, we are discouraging people from using social media to ask for help as it is not safe. We are now looking at other initiatives, again linked to the funding,” she said.
The emergency funding unveiled by the government last month is aimed at supporting those providers facing the most difficulties during the pandemic and help to provide over 1,500 new beds and re-open 344 bed-spaces. It forms is part of a wider £76 million package of UK government support for the most vulnerable in society during the pandemic.
Minister Tolhurst said: “We will continue to engage with the sector to ensure victims and their children can access support including ensuring that councils provide safe accommodation for those that need it.”
She added that the government’s flagship Domestic Abuse Bill, currently before Parliament, places a new duty on councils to provide safe accommodation for victims and their children in England.
*This article is part of a series to coincide with Awareness Month 2020.
Info: Due to recent safeguarding concerns, Roshni can be reached at 0800 953 9666 or 07958 498449 for referrals. (Please do not use any other numbers).