In a recent interview with the BBC, the former Prime Minister warned employers against premature praise of ‘the new way of working’, as she characterised work environments as ‘a safe space’ for victims of domestic abuse.
Whilst some have slowly been returning to work, many still remain at home — as the threat of the coronavirus persists. Theresa May warned that whilst work from home measures were necessary to curb the spread of the virus, these changes created new risks to the safety of abuse victims.
This statement from the MP for Maidenhead followed announcements that the ‘rough sex’ defence will be suspended, as part of changes being implemented by the Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21, which is due to have its 2nd reading within the House of Lords. This ban prevents the death of a woman during sex being seen as explicable or excusable, ‘simply because she consented’, Conservative MP Alex Chalk explained. The ‘rough sex’ defence had long been criticised as part of the ‘normalisation’, and ‘validation’ of violence against women.
In a report published in late April, MPs across parties called for a strong and swift action plan to tackle domestic abuse during the pandemic, warning that: ‘society will be dealing with the devastating consequences for a generation’, unless necessary action is taken.
The Home Affairs Select committee report called for an urgent funding package to protect the victims and families of domestic abuse. In the past few months, helplines have faced rising call numbers as charges and warnings were up 24 per cent during the period of lockdown, compared to last year. In London the Metropolitan Police made around 100 arrests a day during the month of March, citing lockdown measures as the key reason for the spike in incidents.
The government has begun its #YouAreNotAlone campaign, seeking to raise awareness for the help available to domestic abuse victims. Previously, Home Secretary Priti Patel announced a £2 million fund to assist domestic abuse helplines, and to enable online support.
Whilst campaigners welcome this spending pledge, they remain vigilant to the threats being faced in households across Britain. As the nation is being asked to stay inside where possible and employers face difficult financial and moral decisions, a further unhappy consequence of the ongoing pandemic is that the solution to work from home could be a death sentence for those living with abusers.