Home Secretary Priti Patel has vowed to crack down on domestic abusers who are exploiting the lockdown to make their victims feel ‘especially isolated, vulnerable and exposed’.
Ms Patel told The Mail on Sunday she was aware that ‘home is not the safe haven it should be’ – but abusers would be hunted down and punished.
Her remarks come as a police chief revealed that cases of online child abuse have increased during the coronavirus crisis, as home-schooled pupils spend more time unsupervised on their computers. Katy Bourne, chairman of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC), said chief constables were closely monitoring the alarming side effect of school closures.
The Home Secretary, pictured, has vowed to crack down on domestic abusers who are exploiting the lockdown
Ms Patel said that while this ‘extraordinary and emotional time’ was hard for everyone, ‘for some people it is even harder, because home is not the safe haven it should be’.
She said the Government was aware that the strict isolation rules had left people trapped in domestic situations which they had been fighting to escape.
‘I am acutely aware that the necessary guidelines about social distancing and self-isolation may leave the victims of hidden crime, such as domestic abuse and child sexual abuse, feeling especially isolated, vulnerable and exposed,’ she said.
‘And now schools are closed, millions of children are spending more time online than they otherwise would have and may be even more vulnerable to online predators.’
£15 million has been pledged to tackle domestic abuse, pictured, as fears grow that the stay-at-home coronavirus guidelines may leave victims feeling especially isolated, vulnerable and exposed
Ms Patel added: ‘My message to every potential victim is simple: we have not forgotten you and we will not let you down. And my message to every perpetrator is equally simple: you will not get away with your crimes.’
The APCC’s Ms Bourne said police forces had seen an increase in online crime generally as well as online child abuse.
‘Chief constables are monitoring this closely and issuing warrants where necessary. For us it’s also about making people aware and guarding against these types of crime,’ she said.
It is understood the Home Office is planning to release figures this week on the shift in online child abuse cases since the onset of the crisis. The National Crime Agency (NCA) had already warned of the risk of increased online child abuse as people spend more time indoors and on the internet.
Last week, Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency, said it had information that ‘strongly indicates increased online activity by those seeking child abuse material’.
It said that on internet forums and message boards, child abusers were ‘welcoming opportunities to engage with children’. The NCA added that in 2019 about 140,000 UK internet users were registered on the most graphic child abuse sites on the dark web.
The NSPCC children’s charity said staff were also reporting an increase in calls to its child welfare helpline by concerned members of the public.
The Government is working with charities, schools and law enforcement to ensure parents and children know how to stay safe online, pictured
Donald Findlater, director of the child abuse helpline Stop it Now!, which works alongside law enforcement, said he expected a sharp rise in the use of its services.
He said: ‘We have seen an increase in the use of pornographic sites because of isolation measures and we know this can be a precursor for some men with addictions to move into illegal child abuse material. Parents can help in tackling this and think about what their children are doing when they are being quiet in their rooms, because that lack of supervision can make them more vulnerable online.’
Meanwhile, police forces are reporting plummeting rates of crimes, such as violence, linked to the night-time economy, as well as burglaries and traffic offences.
The closure of pubs, clubs and shops, and people remaining indoors, has led to significant falls in reports of crime.
Police, pictured today speaking to a cyclist in London’s Richmond Park, are at the heart of the Government’s efforts to ensure social distancing works for everyone
At the same time, domestic abuse cases are said to have increased, according to charities and police leaders. There are concerns that victims trapped in abusive relationships will be forced to spend more time at home with their partners.
Lucy Hadley, of domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid, said: ‘On our online chat service, which is open for two hours, we see between 200 and 400 users a day and there has been an increased demand for the last couple of weeks.’
Avon and Somerset Police reported a 20 per cent increase in domestic abuse incidents in the past two weeks, from 718 to 868.
In some areas of China that are quarantined due to the coronavirus, domestic abuse cases trebled in February compared with the previous year.
Priti Patel promises to protect the vulnerable who are trapped with domestic abusers during the coronavirus lockdown in exclusive article for the Mail on Sunday
There can be no doubt that we are living through an extraordinary and emotional time.
It is a hard time for everyone, as we are all asked to stay at home in order to keep our families, friends and communities safe. But for some people it is even harder, because home is not the safe haven it should be.
I am acutely aware that the necessary guidelines about social distancing and self-isolation may leave the victims of hidden crime, such as domestic abuse and child sexual abuse, feeling especially isolated, vulnerable and exposed.
And now schools are closed, millions of children are spending more time online than they otherwise would have and may be even more vulnerable to online predators.
But my message to every potential victim is simple: we have not forgotten you and we will not let you down.
And my message to every perpetrator is equally as simple: you will not get away with your crimes.
As we tackle coronavirus our priority is to save lives and to protect the vulnerable. We need to safeguard and support the most vulnerable now more than ever.
Victims of crime remain my top priority and I will continue to do everything in my power to protect every single one.
We are putting them first with our ground-breaking new Domestic Abuse Bill, an additional £15 million to tackle this vile crime was announced in the budget, and £16 million is going directly to refuge services.
But as coronavirus takes hold I refuse to stop there.
We have already given £1.6bn to local councils to help those who need it most during this crisis.
We are continuing to work urgently with charities, to ensure that the support services they provide can remain open during this challenging time.
The Government backed National Domestic Abuse Helpline is also continuing to operate.
We are working with law enforcement to see what more we can do to raise awareness and tackle the perpetrators of these heinous crimes.
We are working across government to redouble our operational response, making sure we are doing everything we can.
And we are working with charities, schools and law enforcement to ensure parents and children know how to stay safe online.
Support is available, from the police, from the Government, and from the amazing voluntary agencies ramping up their efforts in this time of crisis.
Anyone in immediate risk should still call 999. And for those who are in danger, but for whatever reason are unable to talk, call 999 and press 55 – this will ensure you are connected to the relevant police force.
I also want to make clear – whilst our advice is to stay at home, anyone who is at risk of, or experiencing, domestic abuse, is still able to leave and seek refuge. Refuges remain open, and the police will provide support to all individuals who are being abused – whether physically, emotionally, or otherwise.
As we come together as a nation to fight this virus, it is important we do not close our eyes to the threats other people, particularly, women, are facing. They remain at the forefront of our minds as we navigate this extraordinary challenge.
We are all worried for our loved ones, friends and families during these testing times, but no one in this country will face it alone.
The Government is standing side by side with every person making sacrifices to lift this country out of the other side – from our NHS heroes and selfless frontline workers, to all those staying home.
We are asking a lot from everyone, but the response so far has been overwhelming.
Enormous sacrifices are being made across the nation: families staying apart, businesses closed, and routines shattered as people heed the advice to stay home, protecting our NHS and saving lives.
Our world-class police are at the heart of our efforts to ensure social distancing works for everyone.
They are there to help and will continue to police as part of the community; engaging, explaining and encouraging people to stay at home.
But some people continue to ignore the life-saving advice, so this week we gave the police new powers to ensure the minority do not put the majority at risk.
That means they are now able to break up unlawful gatherings and issue fines for those who refuse to play their part in this outstanding national effort.
I salute them for protecting us from this awful disease – while continuing to protect us from abhorrent crimes like domestic abuse.
And I salute the law-abiding majority who are staying at home to protect the nation.
This is an anxious time for us all, but history has proved that by working together, Britain can overcome the challenges we face.
This country has a huge heart, and this Government will not allow anyone to be forgotten, particularly those most in need of our support.
We all have a part to play in this extraordinary national effort, and I have no doubt this great country has the courage, compassion and strength to prevail.