Blog by Creative Producer, Carly McConnell

Yesterday, I awoke in a bad mood. So, I channelled my anger into words behind my closed door.

“Calls to a national domestic abuse helpline rose by 49%… 14 women and two children had been killed in the first three weeks of lockdown.”

I woke up this morning, the 35th day of lockdown, to the above statement in a news article. I was already in a pretty irritated mood due to staying up late the night before trying to find a supermarket that would deliver to a vulnerable and sick family member in Northern Ireland. But the local assembly have not given the names of those with their 12 week ‘shielding’ letter to the supermarkets, so the supermarkets do not know who in NI is classed as vulnerable. It made me angry to think about the elderly, those isolated and those not tech savvy who are having difficulties getting food delivered and the panic it must cause. Eventually, I got a delivery slot, plus a list of the brilliant local bakers, greengrocers etc. in the town who are delivering, but my anger at the vulnerable being let down stayed with me until this morning. And then I read that headline and felt the anger bubble again.

For over 21 years, Open Clasp has worked with women and young women from various backgrounds and lived experiences, but there was always one thing in common with each group: domestic abuse. We have been creating powerful theatre with the aim of raising public awareness and to reach politicians and key decision makers urging changes to the law. Most recently, we have trained over 1,200 police officers using our play Rattle Snake in coercive controlling behaviours.

When the lockdown was announced, we at Open Clasp along with our incredible partners providing front line domestic abuse services, were fearful. As a team, we discussed the potential of Rattle Snake the film being launched online again, like we did for 16 days in 2019, but we were advised by frontline workers that this might be a serious trigger for women compounded with the mental health impact of lockdown. The film is still being used by police forces and women’s services around the country and is still available to those who need it.

To say that I am angry, is honestly an understatement. I am furious that domestic abuse or “intimate terrorism” (Judith Lewis Herman) is still so globally prevalent. Women and children are being killed because of domestic abuse. Yet, we are being told by our government that we have had apparent ‘success’ since lockdown was implemented. 20,732 known deaths of coronavirus (as of 27/04/20), one of them I knew. Add to that 16 deaths due to domestic violence.

In every single country that has introduced some form of a lockdown, reports of domestic abuse have risen. The United Nations has called for urgent action to combat the worldwide surge in domestic violence. “I urge all governments to put women’s safety first as they respond to the pandemic,” Secretary General António Guterres.

We are all currently living with some form of fear looming over us as we think about face masks, anti-bac, rising food costs, when the next pay cheque is coming, whether it is safe to leave the house, whether our elderly relatives are ok, whether our loved ones who are key workers will be safe…now imagine having the added fear of living under the same roof as your abuser. Imagine the fear of trying to protect your children from not only a potentially deadly virus, but from a perpetrator within the family home. Financial abuse, emotional abuse, coercive control, physical abuse, sexual abuse…women are still fighting for justice, still fighting for an end to domestic abuse; it is a disgrace that we still have women and children living in fear. It is a disgrace that women and children are still dying. We are all doing the right thing together by staying at home to save lives during this pandemic. Please look out for signs of abuse, offer support to those in need, report it and let’s stop more lives being lost to domestic violence/abuse.

As our doors remain closed, coronavirus has shown us just how vulnerable we are. But there are those who were vulnerable before and are even more vulnerable now; women surviving domestic abuse, systematic inequality that means BAME communities are disproportionally suffering with the pandemic, those who are homeless, people living in austerity, people living with a disability/disabilities, those within the children, adult and social care system…unfortunately, the list goes on. We now must make sure the anger we are all feeling is turned into action, now and once our doors begin to open.  We must hold the people in power to account. Let’s not return to the status quo.

I urge anyone who needs support or is worried about a friend, family member, neighbour, colleague or acquaintance to please visit our news page here for information and helplines. If you can, please donate to frontline services to help them continue their amazing work in supporting survivors. If you yourself are a survivor, remember, you are strong, you are worthy, you are not alone.