Victims of domestic abuse will be able to seek help in Boots pharmacies in a bid to make it easier for them to access support during the coronavirus lockdown.
Safe spaces will be installed in Boots consultation rooms from Friday where survivors can contact domestic abuse support services, the charity Hestia said.
The scheme has been launched by the charity's UK Says No More campaign in response to increased challenges faced by victims who are forced to isolate at home with perpetrators.
Reports of domestic abuse sent to UK police forces by Crimestoppers have surged by nearly 50 per cent during the lockdown, while Hestia has seen a 47 per cent rise in victims using its free domestic abuse support app Bright Sky.
One woman, who lived in a Hestia refuge after surviving domestic abuse, said "being able to contact a domestic violence helpline in this way will be life-changing for many".
Lyndsey Dearlove, head of UK Says No More at Hestia, said: "Whilst lockdown and social distancing measures continue, it is restricting victims of domestic abuse reaching out to their friends, family and co-workers for support.
"We know there is an increased level of uncertainty for people looking to escape an abusive relationship.
"Self-isolation offers a new method of control over victims, making it very difficult for them to seek support.
"We recognise that key workers in pharmacies hold a unique position within the community as a single point of contact for victims," she added.
Posters and small shelf cards telling people a safe space for domestic abuse support is available will be placed in the 2,400 stores UK-wide.
From Friday, anyone will be able to ask a pharmacist if they can use a consultation room, with no questions asked.
Staff members in Boots will also be given information on how to recognise potential victims.
It comes after the Victim's Commissioner Dame Vera Baird called for more creative thinking on how to help victims during the lockdown.
Dame Vera previously told the Home Affairs Committee that the government must adapt by providing a "system of rescue" in the places where victims will frequent during the outbreak, such as supermarkets and pharmacies.
Marc Donovan, Boots UK chief pharmacist, said: "At times like these, our 2,400 stores in communities across the UK take on increased importance, as a place of safety for those who need one.
"We hope that making our consultation rooms safe spaces we can help people find the support they need at this difficult time, when many other options are temporarily unavailable."
Other pharmacies are also being encouraged to join the initiative.
President of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), Sandra Gidley, said: "During the pandemic, when options for survivors/victims are even more limited than usual, pharmacies can provide the safe environment needed to get support.
"The trust that the public have in pharmacies make them an ideal place to access help and take a step away from harm towards a better future.
"The RPS fully supports the UK Says No More campaign and would encourage other pharmacies to take part and become a safe space for those experiencing domestic abuse."
If any of these issues have affected you, here's how you can get help and advice:
- Call the National Domestic Abuse Helpline for free and confidential advice, 24 hours a day on 0808 2000 247.
- The Men’s Advice Line is a confidential helpline for male victims of domestic abuse and those supporting them. Contact on: 0808 801 0327.
- Galop runs the National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse specialist helpline. Contact: 0800 999 5428. Email: email@example.com
- Chayn provides online help and resources in a number of languages about identifying manipulative situations and how friends can support those being abused.
BAME specialist services:
For details of further helplines, visit the gov.uk website.
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