Abuse in the House

CW: domestic abuse, covid-19

Domestic abuse in Scotland is legally classified as abuse by a current or former intimate partner, be that a spouse or merely someone you are or have been dating. Child abuse in Scotland is defined as abuse of a minor under the age of 18. So, what happens when you’re an over-18 being abused by a household member who is not your intimate partner? Parents, siblings, even flatmates?

 Many would think there’s a quick solution: move out. It is rarely that simple, and the events of the past year have proven so even more. Since March 2020, moving out has been something that is increasingly difficult, as letting agencies are unable to organise in-person viewings; people have lost jobs or had their income cut; and the procedure of physically moving is difficult when you can’t go within two metres of anyone else. For someone who is already stressed from being abused, this process can be unbearable.

 Even if it wasn’t for the pandemic, it is not that easy. Not every adult has a job, and not every adult is able to get a job, even if they want to. Even some people with jobs are on such a low income that it’s difficult to find affordable housing. If you’re being abused by a flatmate, you may understandably be wary about moving in with other flatmates, but living alone is often more expensive. When the options are staying put or being unable to afford food or heating, the choice is not a real one.

It becomes harder still if you’re disabled and require support from someone you live with. If they’re abusing you, it can be impossible to leave. Due to Tory cuts and austerity measures, many disabled people are unable to get funding for paid carers, so need to rely on family members regardless of how they’re treated. (This is aside from the many documented abuses by paid carers too, of course). In a choice between accepting poor treatment, and risking death through no support, most people will choose the option they’re most likely to actually survive.

If you’re an adult, and your in-house abuser isn’t an intimate partner, you’re not eligible for the vast majority of services. Thus, people in this position often have to choose between enduring abuse or becoming homeless. If they choose the latter, they’ll often be classed as voluntarily leaving their home and thus ineligible for any formal support. Therefore, it can become impossible to find somewhere else to live, and the person will just slip through the cracks into the cycle of joblessness and homelessness that is so hard to break.

Many people in these situations will attempt to access help, only to be turned away from various services because they’re not eligible due to where the abuse is coming from. And even for people who manage to access services provided by charities, the legal definitions mean official state help is hard to come by. So how, exactly, are you meant to move out and find safety when you’re told you’re not eligible for housing, you will be abandoned, and they don’t really care if you starve?

There needs to be an examination of what, exactly, is classified as domestic abuse in this country. Services need to exist for people in situations that, while less common than intimate partner violence, still affect many people. If we want to create a truly inclusive Scotland, we need to create a country where everyone has the opportunity to feel safe, and not just people who fit into narrow legal boxes. Which means we need to extend protection and support to people being abused by other figures.

Stay home, stay safe. Everyone recognises the covid-19 slogan. This year has been hard on everyone. But imagine reading that slogan every day, on billboards, on social media ads, on podiums in front of politicians making speeches, when your home isn’t safe. When you have a choice only between danger outside, and danger inside. And then, when you call for support, you’re told you’re ineligible. Things need to change for people who have fallen through the cracks, people for whom staying home is anything but staying safe.