As the UK heads into another lockdown, we need to consider the impact of lockdown on young people who live at home with domestic violence. In particular, young people who are the least likely to be seen as victims themselves.
In the last UK lockdown, the UK Government responded to the problem of teenagers who were seen to be flouting lockdown rules by threatening parents with £60 fines and teenagers with on the spot arrests (See The Mirror, 2020). As reported in The Telegraph (2020), teenagers were framed as susceptible to flouting the rules in their desire for fun and frolics. However, this construction of young people as solely hedonistic misses a great risk that many may face; the threat of living with domestic violence and abuse at home. The first lockdown saw levels of domestic violence soar, with the weekly murder rate for women increased from 2 per week to 3, and numerous helplines reported a surge in help seeking from their services. Indeed, the UN has described the worldwide increase in domestic abuse as a ‘shadow pandemic’ alongside Covid-19.
My research focuses on the experiences of young men who lived with childhood domestic violence and abuse (DVA) and who later became involved on-road and in gangs. In this research I found that, as boys, they had developed a range of coping strategies to manage their own risk and wellbeing living with violence, which often involved seeking safe spaces outside of the home. These ranged from full participation in school, taking advantage of extra-curricular activities, to spending time out on the streets with peers, which later evolved into gang involvement. The central theme to these stories of survival was that living with violence, and feeling powerless at home to prevent it, or to protect their mothers, left them few options apart from to try and protect themselves and spend time elsewhere. For some, the accompanying financial abuse of their mother and limited resources sought them to try and earn money drug-dealing and involvement in the street economy.
This leaves the question, how do young people who live with violence cope during lockdown? Teenagers, who are at times the easiest to associate with hedonism and anti-social disregard for the wider lockdown rules, may also be trying to manage impossible home situations during lockdown. For these young people, parental fines, and on the spot arrests, are more likely to be the first step to criminalisation rather than support. And support also becomes scarcer during nationwide lockdowns. Youth centres and non-essential services and safe spaces mean that young people are more vulnerable to being drawn into exploitation in their search for space outside the home environment.
The saving grace here is that, currently, schools are planning to be open during lockdown, but let us not forget that for young people living with DVA, there are many more hours to be spent in violence than the school day fills. As the domestic violence bill is still coming into being, with an enhanced focus on children as victims who experience DVA themselves, it begs the question, when will we see police and agencies who reprimand young people for not following lockdown rules be asked about their own safeguarding needs, rather than being framed as rule hating hedonistic youths.