LEICESTER, United Kingdom – England’s bishops are urging parish communities to be on the lookout for domestic abuse, after a spike in cases has been reported by a leading charity.

Refuge, which runs the UK’s National Domestic Abuse helpline, reports that calls have increased 49 percent over the past three weeks, the period since the country went into lockdown to stop the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the Counting Dead Women Project this week told members of Parliament at least 14 women and two children have been killed in domestic violence during the lockdown.

“While in lockdown or self-isolation, women and children are likely to be spending concentrated periods of time with perpetrators, potentially escalating the threat of domestic abuse and further restricting their freedom,” said Sandra Horley, Refuge’s chief executive in March 18 statement.

“Domestic abuse isn’t always physical – it’s a pattern of controlling, threatening and coercive behavior, which can also be emotional, economic, psychological or sexual. Abuse is a choice a perpetrator makes, and isolation is already used by many perpetrators as a tool of control,” she said.

On Wednesday, the Domestic Abuse Group of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales issued guidance to parishes on how to support victims of domestic violence.

“Every person has a right to live their life free from violence, abuse, intimidation and fear,” said Bishop John Sherrington, the group’s chairman.

“Catholic parishes can play an important role in the fighting the scourge of domestic abuse, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic where we are seeing some shocking statistics from leading domestic abuse organizations. My thanks go to those organizations and individuals already working so hard to ensure that people suffering domestic abuse can live safe lives,” the bishop said.

The guidelines call on parishes to raise awareness on the issue by publicizing information about helplines on parish websites, raising the issue in homilies in live-streamed Masses, and using social media to spread information about how to get help.

In addition, parish staff are encouraged to keep in contact with parishioners, so they know there is someone there to help and to support local organizations that support victims of domestic abuse.

“Every local situation will differ and so our new guidance is designed to be used as an introduction to start a local project. I hope that Catholics and parishes will be inspired to take this up in their local area,” Sherrington said.

The UK Parliament is currently debating the Domestic Abuse Bill, which would expand the legal definition of domestic abuse and give police and courts more tools to combat the problem.

“Violence of this kind should never be tolerated or justified. It is an offence against the dignity of the human person,” Sherrington said.

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome