The Sussex police and crime commissioner has spoken out after a surprise drop in the number of people reporting domestic violence and abuse during the coronavirus lockdown.
Katy Bourne said: “While we are all deeply affected by this ongoing pandemic, those who have or are still experiencing crime may well be in a heightened state of anxiety and distress. We may be in lockdown, but they must not feel locked out.
“Just because we are seeing a decrease in reports does not mean that these crimes are reducing.
“So it’s now more important than ever that people who feel threatened and vulnerable have someone who will listen and help them.
“We have relaunched Safe Space Sussex so that we can continue to do everything we can to ensure that critical and confidential help remains available to those who need it.
“I understand that it may be difficult for many victims at this time to reach out but I’m hoping that, by sharing ways they can do this more covertly, we will see more people coming forward and getting the help they need.”
Mrs Bourne set up the Safe Space Sussex website four years ago so that people could easily reach out for support. It is believed to have been the first online directory of local victim services.
In response to concerns raised since the start of the coronavirus lockdown, Mrs Bourne has upgraded the site and started an online campaign.
The aim is to help victims reach out safely for help from the police while they are stuck in isolation.
Detective Superintendent Steve Rayland said: “We know it can be more difficult than ever for people to report abuse that’s taking place at home at the moment.
“With no escape from their abuser, a victim’s opportunity to reach out to people who may previously have been able to help them is greatly reduced.
“But there are options available to make contact discreetly, with police and their partners.
“If you don’t feel comfortable talking to the police, we would urge you to contact one of the support services listed on the Safe Space Sussex site.
“It’s really important that people know that we will continue to respond to domestic abuse as normal, arresting perpetrators and protecting vulnerable people.”
The Safe Space Sussex website has a new search tool so that within an average of 10 seconds, victims of any crime should be able to find the service they need.
It also has a “leave site now” button that users can press to exit the site quickly and guidance on how to access the site covertly, using incognito tabs.
This is in part for victims who are living during the lockdown with abusers who monitor their computer search history.
Sussex Police has also shared advice on how victims can covertly let 999 call handlers know that they are in danger by pressing 55 on their mobile phone.
Find out more about it here.
The Brighton domestic abuse service Rise said that there was a worrying decrease in referrals from police in the first few weeks of the lockdown.
But the charity said that more calls had been made to its helpline, indicating that many people were still suffering at home but may have felt unable to reach out safely to the police.
Rise chief executive Jo Gough said: “Our message to survivors has always been to call 999 if you are in immediate danger.
“However, we know that when women are isolating in close proximity with their perpetrator, it isn’t always possible to speak.
“Using the ‘silent solution’ after calling 999 by pressing 55 on a mobile phone can literally save lives, and the new Safe Space Sussex website contains vital safety resources for survivors.”
Roz Scott is a freelance journalist and SEO content writer.