COVID-19: Examining the impact of the pandemic on violence against women and girls

Date: 10th July 2020
Category: Protection from abuse or neglect


Scottish Government published qualitative evidence on the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on people experiencing domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women and girls during March to May 2020.

The research took place over the initial eight weeks of the COVID-19 'lockdown' and involved semi-structured telephone interviews with Scottish statutory and both semi-structured telephone interviews and documentary evidence provided by third sector organisations involved in supporting people experiencing or perpetrating domestic abuse or other forms of violence against women and girls (VAWG). It also included written qualitative empirical examples provided by members of Police Scotland's Domestic Abuse Champions' network.

The following key points emerged from the research are:


  • Services report that in some cases children have experienced domestic abuse more severely during lockdown.
  • Children's support services reported challenges experienced around engaging with and supporting children remotely.

Child contact:

  • Services reported a range of abusive behaviours apparently specific to lockdown related to conflict over chid contact.
  • Services reported some ambiguity in the available guidance and legal advice relating to conflict over child contact during lockdown.


  • Referral rates for the majority of organisations decreased, significantly for some, in the initial 2-3 weeks of lockdown, but there were some indications that referrals are increasing as lockdown progresses.
  • The view of the majority of services was that there may be an increase in reporting and referrals once lockdown restrictions begin to be relaxed.

Support for victims:

  • The mental health impact of lockdown was a significant concern for many organisations.
  • Digital exclusion was reported as a barrier to engaging with some clients.
  • Across the board there were continued reports of clients contacting domestic abuse services for general support, particularly around gas and electricity, housing and food access.

Risk and safety planning:

  • Many services reported that, although perpetrator tactics did not change significantly, the impact and risk of domestic abuse has been magnified by lockdown.
  • The service-generated risks of safely contacting victims who reside with/are being monitored by an abusive partner was a major challenge for many organisations.
  • Throughout the initial phase of lockdown, innovative options for safety planning were fairly limited.
  • During lockdown, services reported it was more difficult for victims to separate from an abusive partner.
  • There are some specific challenges related to lockdown for Black and Minority Ethnic women.

Criminal Justice:

  • Services consistently communicated a number of concerns related to the impact of amended criminal justice procedures on women's risk of domestic abuse.
  • Some services communicated concerns that the "business as usual" message was not being transmitted effectively to victims.

Perpetrator tactics

  • There were some instances in which perpetrators of domestic abuse used abusive behaviours that were apparently specific to lockdown.

Prostitution and Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE):

  • Organisations reported a significant economic impact of lockdown for women in prostitution/CSE. Services had concerns that women were entering/re-entering prostitution and CSE as a result of these economic challenges.
  • Services reported concerns that, due to the decrease in people in public, women in prostitution were resorting to higher-risk practices.
  • A number of services report that the stigma associated with working during lockdown prevented women in prostitution from safety planning as effectively as usual.

Experience of support services/organisations:

  • Overall, services had limited operational capacity during the initial phase of lockdown.
  • As lockdown progressed, many services explored creative ways of engaging with clients.
  • Some domestic abuse support staff reported experiencing vicarious trauma.

Read Scottish Government’s report in full here.