Coronavirus: Boots opens safe spaces for domestic abuse victims during lockdown

‘Saba’ was already in an abusive relationship, but it escalated significantly once the lockdown began.

Her every movement in the house was monitored and her lack of contact with those outside the household was absolute.

Saba’s husband had confiscated her phone because he caught her texting a family member about how she was being treated.

She told Sky News: “I couldn’t go outside. And he would be violent. He was a very, very angry person. He pulled my hair and punched me in the head.”

The situation became so bad that at one point, she tried to take her own life.

Luckily, she was able to escape and find a women’s refuge but, as of today, there is a new method for people like Saba to find help.

Victims of domestic abuse will be able to access safe spaces at Boots pharmacies consultation rooms where they can contact specialist services for support and advice, no questions asked.

Posters telling people a safe space for support is available will be placed around the stores, and Boots staff will be given information on how to recognise potential victims.

The initiative is being launched by charity Hestia’s UK Says No More campaign.

Boots pharmacy

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Boots is offering the service from today

Reports of domestic abuse sent to police forces by Crimestoppers have nearly doubled during the lockdown, while there were more than 4,000 domestic abuse arrests in London within six weeks.

But charities believe there will be an even greater flux of people seeking refuge when the lockdown comes to an end, and a service such as this will be vital for domestic abuse victims like Saba.

She was in an arranged marriage in Pakistan before moving to her husband’s home in the Midlands in 2018 – and that’s when the abuse began.

Married as a teenager, but now in her twenties, Saba says her husband and his family treated her as a slave.

She was given wake-up times by her mother-in-law and would clean and cook, not just for her husband but also his parents and four brothers.

“My mother-in-law forced all the work on me. She controlled everything in the house,” she said.

“She set me to cleaning washing, cooking. If they didn’t like the cooking, they would abuse me. I told myself, I am wrong. I blamed myself.”

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In two years, she didn’t even venture as far as her local corner shop.

If she wanted to go to the doctor she was told “no” and given paracetamol.

She was never allowed in a room by herself.

You might think it couldn’t get worse, but in lockdown family members no longer working were more present and the pressure on Saba became unbearable – so, she planned an escape.

Lyndsey Dearlove, who heads the UK Says No More project, said that in many cases, the lockdown restrictions are making things worse for domestic abuse victims.

She told Sky News: “Perpetrators of abuse have absolute control over all channels of communications, from email to popping your head over the next door neighbours and having a quick chat. Those activities are being stopped or monitored.”

Meanwhile, people experiencing domestic abuse feel unable to access support.



Priti Patel



Coronavirus domestic abuse campaign launched

Hestia, which offers refuge to victims of slavery and abuse, says the number one question it has heard from anyone who has managed to escape since lockdown is “are services still open?”

So from that point they wanted new ways to reach people.

Ms Dearlove says pharmacies are still classed as essential stores during lockdown, so victims can easily access the services.

“In Boots, it can be done in such a way that somebody can pop in and spend an extra 10 minutes phoning a specialist support service and let them know they need help,” she said.

“Say, if they were monitored, it’s quite an easy thing to explain, you can just say you had to queue or wait for a prescription.”

Saba is still hugely traumatised but her case worker at Hestia says her situation is not unusual.

Tami said: “I see lots of women who blame themselves and consequently harm themselves when they are with their abuser. Probably 90% of women.

“There’s more fear during lockdown, fear of reaching out and women don’t know they can leave. But the case workers are here. We are here regardless of what’s going on.”

The president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, Sandra Gidley, said: “During the pandemic, when options for survivors and victims are even more limited than usual, pharmacies can provide the safe environment needed to get support.

“The trust that the public have in pharmacies make them an ideal place to access help and take a step away from harm towards a better future.”

If victims suffering abuse can reach a phone they should call 999 and press 55. If you can’t press 55, remain silent and it will automatically connect to the police. For those seeking support there is also a national 24-hour refuge number: 0808 2000247.

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