Technology shift has made domestic abusers 'more coercive' than ever

Molly Kirk, Lighthouse’s deputy chief executive,

Molly Kirk, Lighthouse’s deputy chief executive, says technology has helped domestic abusers use coercive control in the home. - Credit: SimplyCPhotography/Archant

Almost half a century since Lighthouse women's refuge launched in Ipswich, technology has shifted the means but not the reality of domestic abuse. 

In its 45 years, Lighthouse has housed 4,065 women and 5,277 children since 1976 and supported more than 6,600 individual women, children and young people at its women's centre which opened in 2012.

During 2019/20, the centre was supporting 140 women on average each month - but that number has risen to more than 200 in the past few months.

New referrals have also gone up, from around 40 a month in 2019/20 to 50 in recent months. 

Molly Kirk, Lighthouse’s deputy chief executive, explained that during this time the charity has been better able to understand how to help people fleeing their abusers.

She said: "Domestic abuse has become more coercive as physical violence has become more unacceptable in society. However, we still see horrendous physical harm being inflicted and women are still as much at risk as ever."

She added the refuge and support centre is seeing more and more cases where prams and cars are bugged and home camera systems are installed to allow abusers to monitor victims' movements all-day, every day. 

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The law has changed in recent years. In 2015, the Serious Crime Act first made controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship an offence while the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 has further addressed abuse in the home. 

Mrs Kirk, who has worked at Lighthouse since 1996, said: "Our understanding of domestic abuse has developed and changed considerably.

"Back [in the 1990s] it was very much the idea to get women in get them safe and get them rehoused as soon as possible and so we can offer the next family safe refuge.

"Now there is more understanding around the trauma connected with domestic abuse. 

"It's about helping women understand the trauma they have experienced and to recover from the impact of the domestic abuse."

She said the centre and refuge now helps people get housing, legal and debt advice as well as offering emotional support. 

Ms Kirk added: "It's a really friendly atmosphere and you will be believed without fear of being judged. 

"It's a crucial and vital resource in our town."

Though the support Lighthouse has provided has expanded, it has been hit hard by austerity and relies on charitable donations and grants. 

"It's a huge problem getting the funding to support victims of domestic abuse," she added. 

To contact Lighthouse call 01473 228 270 or for more information visit the charity's website here

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