Growing up, I remember my whole body tensing up every time I heard my father’s key in the back door.
What would be his mood when he got home from work? Would he provoke an argument? Would that cause him to hit me, whip me with his belt, or just hit me on the back of my head?
I have been fortunate to be able to escape sometimes to my best friend’s house down the road to get out of his way.
And the next day, my dad would go back to work and I would go to school, which meant a respite from the disturbing screams and cruel violence.
The love in our lives came from my amazing mother who did all she could to make up for her failures.
This article contains descriptions of violence that some readers may find disturbing.
When the Prime Minister told us all to stay home because of the coronavirus, one of my first thoughts was for those who lived in abusive households – women, men and children, essentially trapped, forced to stay home. interior week after week. What would happen to them?
Spending the past few months uncovering the reality of domestic violence in confinement has been shocking – but I have also met women who have bravely escaped under the most difficult circumstances.
I spent time inside crowded shelters, meeting field support workers who were under pressure, and talking to people who were subject to levels of abuse they often didn’t have. known before.
Jess * had been with her abusive husband for many years. During their relationship, he had assaulted her on several occasions – hitting her, strangling her, controlling what she wore and the way she combed her hair.
She says she must have asked permission to make a cup of tea and even go to the bathroom. But when the lockdown was imposed, the violence reached more extreme levels.
Like most of us, Jess and her husband watched Boris Johnson as he ordered the nation to stay home to stop the spread of Covid-19. It was then that he turned to her and said fearfully: “Let the games begin”.
Her story is one of the most brutal I have ever heard.
She told me that he had raped her over a hundred times. “The curtains were closing, the television was loud, the front door would be locked, the music was going up so no one could hear me scream,” she recalls. He burned the top of her legs with cigarettes “so that no one would ever want her”.
BBC Panorama has learned that the intensity of the abuse escalated during the lockdown – the offenses included poisoning and strangulation.
Women’s Aid worked on the first comprehensive research project on the effects of detention on domestic violence. Of those they spoke to, nearly two-thirds of those living with their attacker said the violence had worsened, and three-quarters said the lockdown made it more difficult for them to escape.
Meanwhile, calls to the Respect Men’s counseling line for male victims increased 65% in the first three months of restrictions.
For some, the pandemic has been used by their attacker as a form of control.
When I asked Jess what the “Stay Home” message meant to her, she simply replied, “Dead”.
Three weeks after the lockdown, her husband said: “Today will be the last day you will see the day.” She knew she had to go out or she was afraid to leave her house “in a wooden box”.
When I was about 12 years old, I remember running to the police station after my father locked my mother in their room and started beating her.
I was afraid he would kill her.
Our phone had been cut because he hadn’t paid the bill – another way of trying to isolate us from our friends and family.
I ran as fast as I could for about a mile to the station and breathlessly pleaded with the officer behind the desk to come and help me.
But locked out, some people in abusive relationships found it difficult to pick up the phone to dial 999, let alone run for help, as their attacker was at home 24/7. out of 7.
Jess knew she had to get to the police somehow to save her life, but she couldn’t alert her husband.
While he slept on the couch, she Google searched “how to contact the police without calling them”, terrified that he would wake up. After sending REGISTER to 999 and receiving a first response, she sent them her address. The officers arrived within minutes.
Panorama found in the first seven weeks of the UK lockdown someone called the police for help on domestic violence every 30 seconds – both women and men.
It took the Westminster government 19 days after placing restrictions on announcing a social media campaign to encourage people to report domestic violence, as well as an additional £ 2million for domestic violence helplines.
Fiona Dwyer, Managing Director of Solace, one of the largest providers of refuge space, told me that “the government’s inaction and sluggishness in responding made an incredibly difficult time even more difficult.”
“If you look at who was in the Cabinet, there are a lot of very privileged men. So maybe that’s not a question they’re thinking about, ”she said.
I have not come across any survivors, charities or domestic violence advocates in the past few months who have said they have seen evidence that the English government has considered the effect of the foreclosure on people living in abusive households.
But Safeguard Minister Victoria Atkins has denied being too slow to act. The government was “aware of the risks of domestic violence,” spoke to charities early on, and “responded a lot,” she told me.
In the nearly three weeks between the introduction of the lockdown and the government’s launch of its You Are Not Alone campaign, 11 women, two children and a man were killed in suspected cases of domestic violence.
The responsibility for these deaths lies with the perpetrators, but could lives have been saved if the government had acted faster?
“There will be time to reflect on the lessons to be learned from the pandemic,” Ms. Atkins told me. She said she was working to remove the October deadline requiring charities to spend emergency public funds they have received.
Stop domestic violence locked out on my street
Victims of domestic violence will benefit from better protection in family courts
Jess had to leave her home and her only option was to try and find a place in a shelter. His life since moving to a facility in Wales run by the Llamau charity has been transformed – thanks to the support of the dedicated staff and his caring life companions.
The UK is potentially facing another coronavirus spike and more local lockdowns as we head into winter. Solace’s Fiona Dwyer said the UK government needs to ensure there is “strong and sustainable funding for future services”.
My parents divorced when I was 16 and that’s when we escaped the violence. But not all survivors of domestic violence leave their homes. Why should they do it? Others cannot because they are terrified that their attacker will come after them; many simply cannot afford to go because they are not financially independent.
For those like Jess who took this step during the lockdown, it was liberating. ” I feel safe. I don’t feel threatened. I can go to bed at night knowing that nothing is going to happen to me. ”
If you have been affected by domestic violence, you can get help by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline on 0808 2000 247 and in Scotland on 0800 027 1234. There is also the Respect Men’s Advice Line. on 0808 801 0327.
* Not his real name
You can watch BBC Panorama ‘Escaping my Abuser’ on BBC One at 7.30pm BST and on BBC iPlayer.