Key Worker briefing - Domestic Abuse and Sexual Abuse – Covid 19/Coronavirus Lockdown

Domestic Abuse and Sexual Abuse – Covid 19/Coronavirus Lockdown

The purpose of this briefing is to alert all key workers providing services to children, families and adults at risk or those requiring care about the increased risk of domestic abuse, sexual violence and coercive control in the current period of social isolation imposed as result of covid-19.

 Domestic abuse is a pattern of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and/or violent behaviour, including sexual violence, by a partner or ex-partner. Statistically domestic abuse is overwhelmingly experienced by women and perpetrated by men. However men can also find themselves in abusive situations. It doesn’t matter how old someone is, what race or ethnicity they are, what class they are, whether or not they are disabled, or whether they have children – anyone can be a victim of abuse.

Often when people think of domestic abuse they think of physical violence, but domestic abuse is very often so much more than that. For many women and men who live with domestic abuse there will be no scars, bruises or broken bones, but for some it can take their life. No one kind of abuse is more serious than any other.

Abusive behaviour is defined in the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 as behaviour exhibited by one partner or ex- partner towards another partner or ex-partner. The abusive behaviour is described as behaviour which is

  • Violent, threatening or intimidating
  • Making the partner or ex-partner dependent or subordinate
  • Isolating from friends, relations and other sources of support
  • Controlling, regulating or monitoring freedom of action
  • Depriving or restricting freedom of action
  • Frightening, humiliating, degrading or punishing

These behaviours are often referred to as coercive control. The damaging and harmful effects on children are also recognised in the legislation. Such behaviour can be a criminal offence. The legislation is not gender specific and it is recognised that although statistically most abuse is directed at women, men can also be harmed.

Currently Shetland Domestic Abuse Partnership want to highlight the following examples of abuse. No list is exhaustive and not all of the following will be present, but these are good indicators of existing or increasing risk.

  • Perpetrators taking away daily right to exercise
  • Perpetrators heightening expectation thresholds e.g. clean the house top to bottom with bleach three times each day
  • Perpetrators blaming victims for anyone in the house feeling unwell for various reasons such as they have ‘not cleaned properly’
  • Perpetrators praising children in the house when they are abusive towards the other parent
  • Perpetrators ill in bed and relying on victims (including children) for care. Using existing health needs to manipulate victims.
  • Victims being monitored more closely and losing opportunities for contact/support with family, friends, agencies
  • Safety plans  (where victims may be seeking help or wanting to plan to leave) not possible to follow through as no privacy or time apart to action anything
  • No time out or away for victims at all
  • Children at home, spending more time within the dynamic of domestic abuse. Perpetrators may use the situation as an excuse to alter child contact arrangements or refuse to return children after contact
  • Violence and abuse escalation
  • Impact on mental health of victims and children- increase in self-harming, OCD, PTSD, inability to self-care in abusive situations, cut off from support that has helped maintain positive mental health, flashbacks to abusive experiences, intrusive thoughts causing distress, no physical activity to reduce stress and support positive mental health
  • More stress, mood changes and angry outbursts from perpetrators.
  • Impact on carers who are being controlled and placed under great stress (Young carers are also at risk )
  • Geographically isolated families may be at heightened risk
  • The majority of children, young people and adults who experience sexual violence are harmed by someone known to them, often within their own family. The current situation means that some people are stuck at home with the person who is abusing them and risks may increase.


Sexual violence is any form of sexual contact that you don't freely agree to.

Contact includes more than just physical touch, it also includes any kind of sexualised interaction that you don't want or agree to such as unwanted messages, online harassment, stalking, inappropriate sexual questions/comments, and more. It also includes physical contact such as groping, taking advantage of someone on alcohol or drugs, removing condoms without consent, sexual assault, and rape.

You may hear different words for sexual violence such as rape, sexual assault, childhood sexual abuse, sexual harassment, or street harassment. Other forms of sexual violence include stalking, sexual exploitation, forced marriage, and organised and ritual abuse.


What you can do:

  • Be alert to signs and symptoms of domestic abuse, coercive control and sexual violence. If it is safe to do so and will not increase the risk to the person being harmed or controlled discuss it with them. NHS staff should continue wherever possible to complete routine enquiries about domestic abuse and sexual violence
  • Be aware of sources of local support and advice and share that/ make assisted referrals (see below for list).
  •  Remember that abusive behaviour can be a criminal offence and people have the right to report it to Police Scotland
  • Seek advice from Duty Social Workers and your line manager if you suspect there is domestic abuse or sexual violence in a household. Be wary of doing anything that could increase the risk to the person affected or alert an abuser to the fact that you have recognised the issues
  • Refer to Shetland Rape Crisis or Shetland Womens Aid with the consent of the person harmed or encourage and support them to self-refer
  • Be aware that domestic abuse and sexual violence/abuse can be a child or adult protection issue and seek advice from your line manager or make a referral to Duty Social Work. NHS staff can contact the Protection Nurse Adviser for assistance.
  •  Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (MARAC) are still in place for those in very high risk situations (identified using the Safelives risk assessment which is commonly done by Police Scotland and/or Shetland Womens Aid). If you think a situation is high risk contact Duty Social Work or Police Scotland without delay
  • For more information about sexual violence, domestic abuse and coercive control please see web links to Scottish Womens Aid and Rape Crisis below.
  •  Be aware of your own safety and if in any doubt seek advice and support immediately.


Useful Contact numbers

Duty Social Work for children and young people (up to age 18)

01595 744420

Duty Social work for Adults

01595 744468

Shetland Islands Council Housing Services

01595 744360

Out of hours contact for Social Work and Housing

01595 695611

Police Scotland continue to deal with Domestic Abuse incidents, which can be a criminal offence. In an emergency please call 999 and in a non-emergency please call 101

Support is still available and we would like to sign-post you to some specialist agencies who can help;

Shetland Women’s Aid
Telephone: (01595) 692070
Mobiles: 07867 300 565 & 07810 796 556
Phone calls/texts will be answered as soon as possible – generally staff will be available 9-12 every weekday.

Shetland Rape Crisis
Centre Hours: Mon-Thurs 9am-1.30pm
Centre Number: 01595 747 174
RCS Helpline: 08088 01 03 02 (6pm-midnight)

Scottish Women’s Aid

Rape Crisis Scotland

Scottish Domestic Abuse &
Forced Marriage Helpline 24 hour
: 0800 027 1234
Freephone – 0808 801 0327 01744 743 200 offers an excellent resource of local numbers and information relating to adult protection, child protection and Domestic Abuse and gender-based violence