Domestic abuse victims on three month waiting list
Women’s Aid services in East Lothian and Midlothian had to open waiting lists for the first time during lockdown as victims of domestic abuse suffered higher levels of trauma and isolation.
A report by the two counties’ joint public protection committee has revealed that while the number of incidents of domestic violence reported fell, the level of help victims needed rose as a result of long-term damage caused.
And the impact meant the service at one point had around 70 women waiting three months to be given access to the help they needed.
Kirsty MacDiarmid, public protection manager for East and Midlothian, said that the service made sure that there was some weekly contact with every victim who was waiting for a key worker to be assigned.
She said: “Covid provided opportunities for perpetrators of abuse and it was very difficult for people to make reports of domestic abuse during that period.
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“I think we know what we are seeing in the police reports is only the tip of the iceberg and a victim will have experienced previous incidents and it can be months and maybe years of abuse before they make a report.”
The report on the number of incidents between April 2020 and March 2021 said there were 1,163 domestic abuse incidents recorded by police in East Lothian – down eight per cent (101 cases) on the previous year.
In Midlothian 1,181 incidents were recorded – down 1.1 per cent or 13 cases.
But the report, which was presented to East Lothian Council’s policy and performance committee yesterday (Thursday) said the numbers did not truly represent the pressures on the service.
It said: “The impact of the Covid pandemic on domestic abuse saw increased opportunities for perpetrators to exert coercive control, and concerns for the increased invisibility of victims and perpetrators during lockdown.
“Heightened levels of trauma and isolation will have longstanding impacts and we have seen the impact on the women, children and young people who have sought support.
“Our survivors who have been able to access support have often needed more frequent contact, longer sessions and longer term support.
“The closure of courts, followed by long delays in processes and frequent release of abusers on bail rather than detention were a source of significant anxiety for many survivors.
“In this context Women’s Aid East and Midlothian (WAEML) had to open waiting lists for longer term support for the first time ever, which reached three months’ waiting time for support for more than 70 women.
“This was exacerbated when the Domestic Abuse Service, which provides short term intensive support for survivors at highest risk, reached its fullcapacity and had to refer on to WAEML services.”
Asked about what this meant for victims on waiting lists, Ms MacDiarmid said weekly contacts were maintained while they waited for a key worker to be assigned to them.
She said: “The longest someone had to wait for an outreach service was five months but they had very specific needs and we always had week to week contact.”
Councillor Colin McGinn stressed that behind reports like the one before them were people’s lives.
He said: “I am struck by the figures. I think the men in our county need to take a look at themselves.”
The report was presented to the committee for noting.