Hotels challenged to offer sanctuary to domestic abuse victims amid coronavirus crisis

"Hotels have an opportunity to throw a lifeline to vulnerable women and children when they need it the most.”

Labour MPs Jess Phillips and Carolyn Harris and 33 women’s rights organisations have written to major hotel chains asking them to offer their beds to women fleeing domestic abusers who would otherwise be trapped with them during the coronavirus lockdown.

They say that there is a risk of an “epidemic of abuse” taking off in the coming weeks as women are forced to stay indoors with abusive husbands and partners because of self-isolation, home-working, and possible reduced job hours.

The letter has been coordinated by Compassion in Politics, Southall Black Sisters, and the MPs Jess Phillips and Carolyn Harris.

Signed by 31 other NGOs including Amnesty and the Jo Cox Foundation, it points to evidence from China which shows that rates of domestic abuse have tripled since the lockdown there.

It comes after Gary Neville announced that he will allow NHS workers to stay in the empty rooms of his hotel chain, if they need to stay away from infected family members while still going to work

The letter says:

“We are worried that many of the women that Southall Black Sisters and other women’s groups work with will be forced to stay in already abusive relationships and that the stress and anxiety caused by Covid-19 might also mean that other women become subject to domestic abuse for the first time.

“You can prevent such experiences from happening to more women – or at the very least, limit the scale of the problem. You can make a difference to some of the most vulnerable women who otherwise have no one to turn to for security, comfort and support.

“While the rooms of your hotel are unoccupied, will you offer a hotel in a publicly undisclosed space to women fleeing a domestic abuser so that they are safe and secure?”

Jess Phillips MP said: “We must work together at this moment of crisis. The coming weeks or months of lock down and self-isolation leave those in abusive relationships in grave danger.  Hotels have an opportunity to throw a lifeline to vulnerable women and children, to offer a place of safety, at a time when they need it the most.”

The letter quotes a recent caller to Southall Black Sisters who said: “I don’t know how long this situation with the virus will last but I’m sure that it’s going to be difficult and very stressful for us. It is not obvious and tricky, the gaslighting and the crazy making… I’ve reached a point like today when my hands are shaken during an argument and I can’t stop it! I need your help and your experience to make this self-isolation bearable for me and my son.”

Commenting, Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters, said: “This is an unprecedented crisis. It is hitting the most vulnerable members of our society the hardest. Self-isolation at home poses serious and significant risks to women in violent and abusive relationships. Now, more than ever, we cannot abandon our responsibility to them. Now, more than ever, we must show solidarity and offer all the help and support that we can muster.”

Jennifer Nadel, Co-Director of Compassion in Politics, added: ‘Women in violent relationships are in even more grave danger during this crisis. Now is the time for compassion. Hotels making their rooms available could quite literally save lives.”

Josiah Mortimer is Co-Editor of Left Foot Forward.

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