A pressure cooker: a story of domestic abuse during lockdown

Cllr Nicky Brennan, the council’s lead on domestic abuse, introduces a series of blogs, sharing the stories of survivors and those working with them.

In this first post, Melisha talks about how her experiences led her to help others and the impact Covid-19 has had on abuse victims, charities and refuges.

The phone has not stopped ringing. We try our best, speaking to women and men who don’t know what to do.

Birmingham Crisis Centre, where I’m a deputy manager, is a refuge for women and children fleeing domestic abuse. It’s a safe space where they can come and rebuild their lives, but during lockdown it’s been so busy, often operating at capacity.

It’s unnatural to be in the house all day, every day with your partner and children – it’s like a pressure cooker, stuck indoors during lockdown. Our team have been so busy taking calls asking for help.

All our stories are different, and my reason for being here will be different to somebody else’s. I’ve been on a crazy journey since – one that brought me back to a refuge where I lived 20 years ago, to help other survivors of domestic abuse.

While lockdown has made situations for those living with their abusers increasingly tough, the way we support them had to change as well, to keep everyone safe from Covid-19. 

Social distancing has meant we couldn’t provide that emotional comfort - a shoulder to cry on or even help a young child do up their buttons – it’s been challenging but our residents have been fantastic, all working together to protect their bubble.

Women have definitely felt alone. We didn’t close our doors – the centre remained open throughout lockdown – so there’s been that place of safety. For most people technology helped them do things differently, like staying in touch, but here we have restrictions for their safety – so it’s like being stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Even though I – like everyone we’re trying to help – have my own experiences of domestic abuse, it can be hard to hear some of the stories that come through our helpline. Even when we’re absolutely full, we try our best to find alternative accommodation for them.

Every day we hear horror stories or see women coming into the centre battered, bruised – but to hear and see all that during this pandemic has been just horrible. And it’s not stopped.

Recently a colleague was talking to a caller and as she put the phone down said she had to take a minute as she couldn’t believe what she’d heard – I can’t go into details but she was unable to move away, her abuser was very volatile and asking her to do some very unpleasant things. 

We have a lot of children here and Covid-19 has impacted on them all very differently, depending on their age, their experiences or what they’ve been fleeing.

While we’ve been able to offer emotional support by talking to them in person or on WhatsApp, so they can talk frankly without their parents, we’ve not been able to give them hugs. They’ve not been seeing their friends, they’re not at school or in their normal routine – so it’s really tough.

Now restrictions are being eased, women are able to see their social bubble or family - that has been a beautiful thing to see

Domestic abuse is not something that only existed in lockdown, and it doesn’t matter what your ethnicity, class, race, postcode or gender you are – we see people from all backgrounds.


  • Birmingham Crisis Centre operates a 24-hour helpline for anybody experiencing domestic abuse and are seeking refuge, advice or support. Call 0121 507 0707 to speak to one of their fully trained support workers.


This post was published on 25 August 2020.

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