‘She couldn’t leave them… the perpetrator had threatened to burn them alive’: domestic abuse helpline calls relating to companion animals during the COVID-19 pandemic

Roxanne D. Hawkins*, Zara P. Brodie, Chloe Maclean, Jack McKinlay

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Abstract

Companion animals can both protect against, and increase risk for, coercive control and abuse, yet have not been considered in existing UK COVID-19 reports of domestic abuse (DA). This study aimed to explore the nature and frequency of animal-related calls received by UK domestic abuse helpline (DAH) staff during the COVID-19 pandemic, examine any lockdown-related changes, identify potential commonalities across helpline organisations, and explore perspectives about ongoing animal-related issues in the context of DA. Semi-structured virtual interviews were conducted with 11 DAH staff workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Data were subjected to thematic analysis. The analysis revealed four overarching themes. Theme (1) lockdown-related changes in the frequency and nature of animal-related calls received. Theme (2) animals as tools for abuse during lockdown, with subthemes (a) manipulating the family-animal bond, and (b) fears over animal safety. Theme (3) animals as barriers to refuge during lockdown, with subthemes, (a) lack of animal-friendly accommodation, (b) lack of social support systems, and (c) animals as coping mechanisms. Theme (4) helpline staffs’ awareness of and links to animal-friendly accommodation and fostering services. The findings can inform decision making regarding appropriate long-term support needs for multi-species families with complex needs, both during and post-pandemic.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychology, Crime and Law
Early online date17 Jun 2022
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Jun 2022

Keywords

  • animal cruelty
  • companion animals
  • COVID-19
  • domestic abuse
  • helplines

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