Reporting Domestic Abuse During Lockdown: The Use of Silent Online Reporting

Report on the use of, and response to, online reporting of domestic abuse during Covid 19.

Policy Briefing


An increased incidence of domestic abuse (DA) during the Covid-19 lockdown period (Taub, 2020) has required creative interventions from police forces to address additional risks (Williamson et al., 2020). The project explored DA reporting within the context of the Covid-19 lockdown when victims were confined to their homes and therefore potentially at greater risk of experiencing DA and less likely to have the freedom to report it safely. This study, carried out by Sheffield Hallam University, in collaboration with the University of Liverpool, South Yorkshire Police (SYP) and West Yorkshire Police (WYP) explored the use of online reporting tools (ORT) to support victims in reporting DA safely and silently during the Covid-19 lockdown period. This ORT research compared reporting characteristics of victims and incidents pre-, during and post-lockdown logged with SYP and WYP.

Key findings

There was a reduction in historic reporting during the Covid-19 lockdown period, and less in person reporting, but then reporting spiked in December 2020.

There was a steady increase in ORT use over the lockdown periods, with more use by vulnerable victims and those with children, likely owing to greater accessibility and convenience of this reporting method.

SYP received more ORT reports, even though their service was newer, which may reflect that it had been promoted to victims more recently.

ORT is being used to report criminal incidents, although more of these reflect a lower level of seriousness, and have lower rates of prosecutions.


As in person reporting dropped during lockdowns, ORT was increasingly used to report DA incidents that were criminal in nature and prosecutable. However, police and court action for these incidents was less than for incidents reported by other means. This is likely because ORT incidents were slightly less serious in nature. Further, ORT reporting happened more often where the victim and perpetrator were not living together, suggesting the victim may not need to use more immediate means of reporting (such as phone calls) as they are less likely to require support to make the alleged perpetrator leave. Indeed, ORT reports may be used more once the victim is no longer in the presence of the perpetrator. Police forces should consider how they are promoting ORT use to ensure victims who are less able to report in person are aware of how they can use it.

It is clear ORT provides an accessible means for victims with vulnerabilities and children to report, and therefore has likely provided great support for these victims. ORT reporting is silent, which may also be a factor, as children, carers, or others in the home are unable to overhear reporting, and thus ORT reporting may help to provide privacy when reporting for those in shared domestic situations.

The lockdown period influenced the number of historic incidents reported, which should be noted by police forces post-lockdown to encourage victims to re-consider reporting these incidents. It is unclear what factors are behind the later spike in reporting in December 2020. It is possible this is due to a combination of the festive season and a long time of moving through lockdown restrictions where tensions would have been high, but it was not because of a return to reporting historic incidents.

The research was conducted by Dr Charlotte Coleman, Dr Kate Whitfield, Joanna Newman, and Adam Bates (Sheffield Hallam University), Prof Louise Almond (University of Liverpool), Shelley Hemsley (South Yorkshire Police), and David Cowley (West Yorkshire Police).

Report date: May 2023. 

For further information please contact  Dr Charlotte Coleman by email (