FearFree - Running a domestic abuse service for men, LGBTQ+ and non-binary people through Covid-19

The pandemic has had severe impacts on the third sector and the people the sector works to help - 40% of charities are in a worsening financial situation and 10% of charities are being forced to close. This has resulted in resources of remaining charities being overstretched, with 56% of charities having reported a “surge in demand”.

One area that has experienced an exponential increase in demand is Domestic Abuse services, with cases of domestic abuse increasing globally by 20% during the first lockdown.

Therefore, domestic abuse services are more important now than ever which is why this year, FS chose FearFree as its charitable partner for 2021. FearFree is the only person-centered service in Scotland for LGBTQ+ and male victims of domestic abuse. They offer a range of support including safety planning, emotional support, and practical support such as housing or education.

We, the FS2021 Charity Team, spoke with FearFree Services Manager, Angela, and Criminal Justice Support Worker, Christian, to learn more about the invaluable work they do to help victims of domestic abuse and to see how Covid-19 has affected the organisation.

“There’s hope, there are people there for them working tirelessly. You are not alone.” -- Christian

What are some common misconceptions about domestic abuse?

From speaking with Angela and Christian, we learned that there are many misconceptions about the gender roles in domestic abuse. People may think that abuse happens less frequently in same-sex couples and that women cannot be as abusive as men. In reality, though, 16% of reported cases involve a female perpetrator. Furthermore, 40% of LGBTQ+ people and a staggering 80% of transgender and non-binary people have experienced domestic abuse in relationships.

Another common misconception is that abuse is predominantly physical when in reality it does not matter if someone is physically stronger than their partner. For example, abusers can use weapons such as coercive control or micromanagement to emotionally and mentally manipulate their partner.

In addition to the type of abuse that people in heterosexual couples may experience, LGBTQ+ and non-binary people can experience additional forms of abuse, such as ‘deadnaming’, where their partner calls them by their birth name rather than by their chosen name, thereby discounting their identity. An abusive partner might also physically or verbally target parts of the body that trigger dysphoria. Furthermore, LGBTQ+ and non-binary people might experience threats of being outed to friends and family to whom they have not/do not wish to come out. Reporting the abuse to professionals can be just as challenging as many struggle to understand abuse in same-sex relationships, and people feel like they have to explain their identity and sexual orientation all over again.

“These are really hard times, please look out for one another. Please recognise signs of abuse. Keep an eye on loved ones, neighbours, and friends. If in doubt check it out” -- Angela

What impact has Covid-19 and lockdown had on FearFree. What additional challenges have they faced?

FearFree has seen its referrals increase by 480% compared to last year. The organisation normally receives approximately 6 new referrals a month, but since the easing of lockdown in July/August, they were receiving a referral every day. When asked why this was the case, Angela and Christian explained that this was due to victims being stuck with their abusers almost 24/7 during the lockdown. However, as lockdown began to ease and people had more freedom, victims had more freedom to seek help. Angela and Christian remarked that seeking help for domestic abuse is opportunistic, rather than structured - people have to wait to ask for help until they feel safe to do so.

Understandably, the pandemic has meant that the nature of FearFree’s support has changed. There is currently no face-to-face support, with reliance on virtual communication. However, Angela and Christian commented that some people who need the FearFree service are digitally excluded, and virtual communication can be tricky, so we are relying on communication by phone.

“FearFree has seen their referrals increase by 480% compared to last year.”

What is the most rewarding part of working with FearFree?

Angela and Christian both commented that the best part of working with FearFree is seeing the development of people as a result of the work the organisation does. FearFree provides help for people feeling vulnerable and scared and gives them the support they need to rebuild safety and security in their lives. Angela also added that it is rewarding just to think that people know help is out there if they need it.

“FearFree only has the equivalent of 2.5 full-time workers.”

The work FearFree and other domestic abuse services do is invaluable, particularly during times like this. FS would like to thank the FearFree team; Angela, Christian, Sue, Arizona, Leigh and Cailean, for all the work they do.

Should you wish to learn more about the incredible work the FearFree team does, please visit:

To make a referral to FearFree, please use one of the following options;

  1. Call on 0131 624 7270

  2. Email in to

  3. Use the dedicated online referrals page:

Please see below for some other helpful links from FearFree:

  1. Advice on how to stay safe during lockdown:

  2. How to help someone who might be affected by domestic abuse:

  3. A list of organisations (domestic abuse-focused and others) who can offer support: