Victims of domestic abuse will be able to use a special code word in pharmacies all over the UK to signal that they need help and support.
The idea of the scheme is to give victims an opportunity to reach out for help without making their situation obvious to members of the public, or alerting their abuser.
Victims who “Ask for Ani” at pharmacy counters will be ushered into special private consulting rooms where they will be able to contact police, helplines or other support services.
‘Action needed immediately’
The scheme has been made possible due to a campaign by the crisis charity Hestia, which has prompted the opening of designated safe spaces in consultation rooms at more than 5,000 pharmacies nationwide.
All Boots pharmacies are taking part in the scheme, with around 2,300 branches across the UK involved, as well as 247 independent pharmacies, with more expected to join.
The codeword “Ani” is an acronym for “Action Needed Immediately”.
Experts have raised concerns about an increase in domestic abuse during the pandemic, and figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that 20 per cent of all offences reported during or immediately after the first lockdown related to domestic abuse.
This scheme is similar to another which was launched by the Metropolitan police which encourages people to “Ask for Angela” at the bar in pubs, clubs and restaurants to help prevent sexual violence.
‘Another avenue of support’
Speaking to the BBC, Safeguarding Minister Victoria Atkins said: “We know that one of the many ways in which abusers seek to abuse their victims is to control them, so particularly in lockdown restrictions, it can be very difficult for victims to seek help.
“The pharmacists will be fully trained and will know what to do, the victim is asked what they would like to happen, some might want a 999 call, others may want to talk to the helpline and other support services.
She added: “This about giving another avenue of support to victims who can often find it so difficult to seek help from their perpetrators.”If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse and in need of support, you can contact the National Domestic Abuse helpline on 0808 2000 247.
Citizen’s Advice lists a number of specialist organisations that offer support for victims of domestic abuse, and how they can be contacted.
There is further information about accessing support during the pandemic on the government’s website, here.