Domestic abuse surges during the pandemic

EXCLUSIVE: Jewish Women's Aid has seen a 12 per cent rise in the number of victims accessing support between April 2020 and January 2021


Domestic abuse has surged in the Jewish community during the pandemic, new figures from the charity Jewish Women’s Aid (JWA) reveal.

JWA has seen a 12 per cent rise in the number of victims accessing support between April 2020 and January 2021 compared to the previous year.

The number of hours JWA has spent helping victims during the pandemic has also soared by 26 per cent, the organisation said.

Since last April, JWA has been supporting up to 150 women each month.

Shul closures and the inability to get out of the house for a meal during Shabbat and the Chagim have left women unable to find any respite from an abusive relationship, said Karen Lewis, client services manager for JWA.

“Leaving an abusive relationship is probably the hardest thing anyone is ever going to have to do, particularly now when you’re finding it hard even just to get to the shop or home-school your kids,” she said. This is “increasing the time that they’re remaining in a dangerous or unsafe situation. The issues that were being dealt with pre-pandemic might be escalating.”

JWA research has found that, on average, Jewish women take about two years longer to report domestic abuse than the national average — 11.5 years instead of about 9.5 years.

But the organisation stressed that the rise in domestic abuse in the Jewish community during the pandemic was in line with nationwide figures.

One domestic abuse survivor who fled her home during lockdown told the JC that she had been living with a “monster” who she feared could murder her – while he maintained the outward appearance of being a community man who could be found davening in shul.

She stressed that her abuser had a “very successful career” and was close to people “held in high esteem amongst the 
Jewish community”.

“My ex-husband appears as a normal, well-groomed man, the social guy that would buy a round of drinks, sends 
WhatsApp messages to join his social groups, posts thought-provoking stories on Facebook, a nice guy who if you saw him in shul on Rosh Hashanah would proudly wear a tallit on his back and shake your hand or wish you mazel tov on all your 
latest achievements and others.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, she said she had “no access to finances, no material possessions, no love and 
no partnership.

“He controlled the food shop and purposely got products I didn’t eat. I had no online accounts so I was absolutely stuck. It was like I was in 
quicksand. One of my friends clocked on at this point and posted emergency money through the door but I was unable to use it as I couldn’t get out,” she said.

She described the plight of “living with a monster behind closed doors, one who shows no empathy or remorse.

“There is an awareness that your perpetrator is capable of murdering you and walking on eggshells doesn’t come close to describing the circumstance you find yourself in.”

She sought help during the pandemic after initially contemplating suicide. “My children saved my life as I knew I could never leave them with him.”

She is receiving support and counselling through JWA, she said, adding that the charity gave her a “new beginning away from toxicity.

“The day I left I was not out of danger, as one would assume. Two safety phones later and I am living in normality with protection from the court. You have nothing material-wise but remember you had nothing before. What you have is freedom and that’s priceless.”

JWA’s soaring pandemic caseload has been in line with the rest of the sector, the charity said.
In England and Wales, 842,800 cases were reported in the year ending September 2020, up from over 669,600 the previous year – a ten per cent rise. 

CEO Naomi Dickson said survivors are “very anxious. They’re telling us that their children are experiencing and witnessing more domestic abuse than ever before and that they 
and their children are experiencing more trauma.” 

JWA built a bigger frontline caseworker team last year to meet demand, Ms Dickson added. “We’ve also got more space in our counselling service for the same reason. Additionally, we’ve also increased capacity in our children’s therapeutic service. We’ve gone from two to three counsellors in our team.”

Ms Dickson said JWA was dealing with greater levels of destitution than ever, a trend she linked to court and benefit claim delays, job losses and economic abuse.

JWA has handed over just under £30,000 to women since the crisis began – for food and bedding and to cover other costs due to delays in the transfer of benefits.

Ms Lewis said: “We’ve also got clients who may have already left the abusive relationship and are now living with friends and families. Some of them have unfortunately had to move back with their abusive partners. That’s because they’re protecting the families or friends they’re staying with who may have added vulnerabilities due to Covid or may be feeling vulnerable themselves and not wanting to have people living in their homes.”

She added that the charity had spent more time on delivering “emotional support” to survivors who face increased loneliness during lockdown.

“On Shabbat and Chagim, on the festivals, women who may have been invited out to meals prior to lockdown and the pandemic are now eating alone. This is adding to their isolation and loneliness because Shabbat may have been a time of respite when they could go out and socialise and relax with other people,” she said.

For support on domestic abuse, contact police on 999 and dial 55 if unable to speak. 

Jewish women and girls over 16 can contact JWA on 0808 801 0500, or web chat at

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