LOCAL coronavirus lockdowns have led to an “escalation of abuse for some victims” of domestic violence, a grim new report has revealed.

The Scottish Government paper reveals that, generally, while perpetrator behaviours and tactics had “not changed significantly throughout the period of lockdown” they had increased in frequency and intensity.

One service quoted said there had also been an “increase in the severity” of attacks, with “higher levels of risk, increased fear among victims, more severe threats and higher levels of physical and sexual violence.”

The coronavirus restrictions had provided “more opportunities for abuse and control to go unobserved”.

In particular, the ban on household mixing “meant victims could not seek temporary safety at friends’ or families’ houses, which increased their risk.”

The report, published on Thursday, found that some services across Scotland “reported significantly increased referral rates” between August and October, during phase three of the Scottish Government’s route map out of coronavirus.

The authors spoke to staff at 44 Scottish statutory and third sector organisations involved in supporting people experiencing domestic abuse or other forms of violence against women and girls.

Services said that “coercive control behaviours”, such as controlling access to food, medication, internet, phones and smart devices, and money were “less likely to be detected due to the ongoing restrictions and social isolation.”

One organisation noted this was a specific challenge for clients who were working from home with their abuser.

The groups also reported increased levels of stalking and harassment.

Rape Crisis Scotland said there has been a surge in demand for the FollowIt app which helps women record what’s happening to them.

There were also fears over the significant impact of delays to court cases caused by coronavirus, with organisations saying they “were having a significant impact on victims’ stress and anxiety levels, and risk.”

Covid restrictions around accessing school buildings has also led to “significant challenges” for specialist domestic abuse recovery services for children.

A number of organisations said they had “concerns for the generation of children who had experienced domestic abuse but were currently missing out on recovery work.”

There were also reports of a significant decrease in the number of referrals for BME women “living in a situation of enforced servitude and extended family abuse.”

The report said these numbers “have decreased significantly throughout the period of lockdown and subsequent phases, suggesting women were

unable to make contact due to stricter controls on their freedoms.”

Organisations that support women involved in prostitution said the sex industry “had almost entirely re-opened by phase three of Scotland’s Route Map, with outreach workers observing on-street prostitution numbers steadily increasing to reach Covid levels.”

They reported that men were aware women in prostitution had been financially affected by the Coronavirus crisis and as a result “were putting pressure on women to change their boundaries and accept less money.”

The Scottish Government’s Equalities Minister Christina McKelvie said the increasing referrals was a “major concern”.

She said: “It is atrocious that this is the case but we are focused on ensuring that frontline services can meet the increased demand for support and have provided an additional £4.25 million to help to ensure these vital services are still able to provide support to people across the country.

“Police Scotland continue to prioritise domestic abuse cases so we would encourage anyone experiencing violence and domestic abuse to get the support they need.

“The Scottish Government is working with justice partners and support organisations to address delays within the justice system, to ensure that civil protection orders remain effective, and to support people as effectively as possible in these circumstances.”

Scottish Women’s Aid has previously warned of further demand on its services as lockdown eases.

Marsha Scott, chief executive of Scottish Women’s Aid, said: “As lockdown and other measures ease, our local groups are anticipating even more demand for their specialist services as survivors begin to have more opportunities to seek support.”