School of Social and Political Science

Edinburgh researchers part of ESRC-funded study on global responses to domestic violence and abuse under Covid-19



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Researchers at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Social and Political Science (SPS) are part of a new international study launching later this month to examine global responses to domestic violence and abuse during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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“The risks of living with domestic violence and abuse have increased under Covid-19 restrictions and support and services have become harder for victims and their families to access. A range of responses at policy and practice levels have emerged. These differ across the world and little is known as yet about their take-up and impact. This study will fill an important gap in our knowledge.”

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Dr Claire Houghton and Dr Franziska Meinck at SPS will work on ‘Domestic Abuse: Harnessing Learning internationally under Covid-19’ (DAHLIA-19) with lead researcher Professor Nicky Stanley and colleagues in the Connect Centre for International Research on Interpersonal Violence and Harm at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan). 

The study is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to Covid-19. It will examine policy and practice responses in four countries: the UK, Australia, Ireland and South Africa. 

Together with researchers at UCLAN, University of Melbourne, Trinity College Dublin and the University of the Witwatersrand, Dr Claire Houghton and Dr Franziska Meinck will collaborate with domestic abuse organisations and policy actors in all four countries to collect and compare different initiatives and policies for all family members living with domestic violence and abuse. 

Professor Stanley said:

“The risks of living with domestic violence and abuse have increased under Covid-19 restrictions and support and services have become harder for victims and their families to access. A range of responses at policy and practice levels have emerged. These differ across the world and little is known as yet about their take-up and impact. This study will fill an important gap in our knowledge.”

– Professor Stanley, University of Central Lancashire

Dr Claire Houghton agrees:

“In Scotland, strong multi-agency collaboration emerged quickly to respond to the ‘crisis within a crisis’ for adult and child survivors of domestic abuse. Project partners Scottish Women’s Aid, ASSIST, Community Justice Scotland and the Scottish Government were key to this and we are keen to learn from policy and practice colleagues across the sector about the impact of Covid-19, the measures and investment.

“To identify challenges and innovation in this area, in Scotland and across the other countries will be of great importance in our work going forward with women, children and perpetrators.”

– Dr Claire Houghton, University of Edinburgh

Partners in policy and practice

The Scottish policy and practice partners are Scottish Women’s Aid, ASSIST, Community Justice Scotland and the Scottish Government.

Domestic abuse services and experts across the UK will be invited to contribute evidence and experience to the research which will produce briefings and feedback for providers and policy makers throughout the 14-month study. A final report will be available by January 2022.

Dr Marsha Scott, Chief Executive of Scottish Women’s Aid, said:

“COVID-19, and measures to limit the spread of the virus, have had a huge impact on women and children experiencing domestic abuse. Abusers have used lockdown and other measures as a means to further isolate and control those they are abusing, at great risk to the safety and wellbeing of women, children and young people. Responses to the pandemic have also had detrimental impacts on access to refuge accommodation, child contact processes and the already very fragile access to justice that survivors have. At the same time, specialist services have responded with a degree of innovation and speed that is truly remarkable.

“We are delighted to partner on this research which we believe will deliver important learning for the work that lies ahead to strengthen and protect the rights and safety of women, children and young people experiencing domestic abuse.”

– Marsha Scott, Chief Executive of Scottish Women’s Aid

Fiona McMullen from ASSIST Glasgow states:

“ASSIST recognises that domestic abuse is a unique crime and  is often repeat in nature, with perpetrators quickly learning any changes to processes and how to use these in their abuse. COVID-19 has caused significantly delays to the victims’ journey through the criminal and civil court processes. It is vital that victims have access to risk assessment and safety planning throughout this time.

"We hear many victims saying that the criminal justice service works better for the perpetrators than themselves and we are concerned that this may result in disengagement of the brave victims who put their faith in this.. This important research helps us to keep the voice of the victims heard and has  the potential to improve the response for them and others to come.”  

– Fiona McMullen, ASSIST Glasgow

Nicole Jacobs, the Designate Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales, welcomed this research and commented:

“We know that victims of domestic abuse have faced much greater danger during the Covid-19 pandemic. Many have felt lost, isolated and fearful and unable to access help or support. It is essential that we learn lessons from the response worldwide now so that we can bring about positive change that will help victims in times of future crisis. Given the Connect Centre’s considerable experience in this area, I believe this study will make a real difference to many people globally.”

– Nicole Jacobs, Designate Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales

More on the SPS research team

Dr Claire Houghton is Lecturer in Social Policy and Qualitative Research at the University of Edinburgh, specialising in research with survivors to influence Gender Equality and Gender Based Violence policy in Scotland (Everyday Heroes and Voice Against Violence).

Social Policy at SPS

Dr Franziska Meinck is a Lecturer in Social Work at the University of Edinburgh specialising in research on violence exposed children.

Social Work at SPS

The Connect Centre for International Research on Interpersonal Violence and Harm

The Connect Centre is based in the School of Social Work, Care and Community at UCLan and aims to bring to together researchers, practitioners and influencers to develop new ideas on preventing all forms of interpersonal violence , and the harm that can result, across the life course.

The Centre’s research makes connections and challenges fragmented thinking about violence and abuse and its impact in order to develop new and better research on preventing harm and protecting adults and children from the consequences.

The Connect Centre includes a group of cross-disciplinary researchers and PhD students and is led by Professor Nicky Stanley and Dr Christine Barter.