High Sheriff of West Sussex looks at how coronavirus has affected domestic abuse and explains what help is available

High Sheriff of West Sussex Dr Tim Fooks, in his weekly briefing on projects in the county, takes a look at how coronavirus has affected domestic abuse and explains what help is available.

No-one should ever be subjected to any form of abuse in any situation or relationship, but almost one in three women and one in six men will be affected by it at some stage in their lives, with women often facing more severe and repeated forms of abuse.

Trying to obtain help can itself be dangerous but, if unchecked, as in two recent cases in West Sussex, abuse can result in murder.

Sign up to our daily SussexWorld Today newsletter

As our communities grow stronger, through the networks of care that we have created to keep the medically vulnerable safe, now would also be a good time to ensure that those who are vulnerable through abuse are also able to receive support and, if needed, a place of safety.

Dr Tim Fooks, High Sheriff of West Sussex

The national charity Refuge reported last week an increase of 49 per cent in calls to the domestic abuse helpline. Killings linked to abuse have also jumped. For some, the coronavirus lock-down has resulted in them being locked-in with their abuser.

As a GP, I have regularly been consulted by patients suffering from abuse – it has been one of the most important roles of my job – and often, I would be told how being abused could make the person feel so inadequate that they could even end up blaming themselves for the psychological or physical violence to which they were being subjected.

Such a serious distortion in a relationship needs very expert help and our county council provides a specialist domestic abuse service, called WORTH, which supports people at high risk of harm or homicide as a result of domestic abuse.

In West Sussex, we are fortunate to also have two outstanding local charities, Safe in Sussex and My Sisters’ House, which, despite the period of lockdown, have maintained their confidential telephone support to those in abusive relationships. Safe in Sussex also runs refuges for women, with the 17 rooms they have around the county almost always fully occupied. My Sisters’ House not only counsels those at risk but they also act as a women’s centre, providing help with benefits, housing and more general emotional support. And for those whose experience of abuse has included sexual trauma, the charity Life Centre provides specialist counselling once the victim is safe enough to start this particular journey of recovery.

My Sisters' House celebrates its fifth anniversary with Dame Julie Walters officially opening the new centre building in 2019. Picture: Sarah Standing

However, not everyone who needs help requests it. They may not be free to seek help or just not have access to the numbers.

This is just the sort of issue that the police consider very carefully every week when they meet with the council’s agencies and the voluntary sector to monitor the current situation across the county.

At the beginning of lockdown, Chief Superintendent Jayne Dando, head of public protection command for Sussex Police, informed me that there was a potentially worrying dip in calls asking for help. However, the numbers of calls are now increasing and all agencies are working together to make sure the helpline numbers are accessible and visible throughout West Sussex. And once someone does call for help, be they female or male, every step possible is taken to ensure that their safety is secured.

So we should not be surprised if we start to see domestic abuse helpline numbers on the sides of refuse lorries going down our streets or on the packets of medicine we collect from our pharmacies. But let us also make sure these numbers are clearly shown, not just in our local shops and bus stops, but also on our new community websites and Facebook pages. It could save a life.

Safe in Sussex chief executive Sharon Howard, right, with Sussex police and crime commissioner Katy Bourne at Amber House in Littlehampton. Picture: Steve Robards SR1906381

West Sussex domestic abuse helplines and help times

In an emergency call 999. If you cannot speak, stay silent and the call will be sent to the police. Dial 55 to alert the call handler that your call is an emergency.

WORTH Domestic Abuse Service 07834 968 539 or 0330 222 8181 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm) email [email protected]

National Domestic Abuse Line 24-hour freephone 0808 2000 247 (run by Refuge)

Safe in Sussex 0330 333 7416 (Monday to Friday 9.30am to 4.30pm) or email [email protected]

My Sisters’ House domestic abuse line 07787 394983 (Monday to Friday, 10am to 1pm and 8pm to 10pm / Thursday 5pm to 8pm / Saturday 9am to midday)

Life-Centre for survivors of rape and sexual abuse freephone 0808 802 0808, text 07717 989 022

Mankind Initiative for male victims of abuse: Confidential Helpline 01823 334244 (weekdays 10am to 4pm)

A message from the Editor, Gary Shipton:

In order for us to continue to provide high quality and trusted local news, I am asking you to please purchase a copy of our newspapers.

With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our local valued advertisers - and consequently the advertising that we receive - we are more reliant than ever on you helping us to provide you with news and information by buying a copy of our newspapers.

Our journalists are highly trained and our content is independently regulated by IPSO to some of the most rigorous standards in the world. But being your eyes and ears comes at a price. So we need your support more than ever to buy our newspapers during this crisis.

Stay safe, and best wishes.