In the UN’s Secretary-General words “Violence against women is a global pandemic” well, so is Corona virus…
Since the beginning of the year over 5 million people have contracted the virus and at least 360 000 people have died from its associated health complications. However, these official numbers do not account for those who suffer from grave physical and emotional harm due to restrictive quarantine measures, most notably the victims of domestic violence.
The intersection of the two pandemics is easy to rationalize but data is scarce: Data accurately reflecting the rate of domestic violence is hard to obtain as the UN estimates that less than 40% of victims of domestic violence actually seek help. However, without the freedom of movement and assembly, many perpetrators of domestic violence may choose to increasingly unload their frustrations on their household victims most typically wife or girlfriend and children. Correspondingly, these restrictions on movement also force millions of victims of domestic violence to live without refuge from their aggressors.
COVID19 disproportionately affects the quality of life of millions of women, girls and boys suffering from domestic violence worldwide. Thus, countries and civil society organisations have been developing innovative strategies to address the intersection of the two pandemics.
Correlation and causation in the case of COVID19 and GBV
Gender Based Violence crimes (crimes of physical, sexual and psychological violence committed primarily against women and girls) are thought to be amidst the most under-reported crimes worldwide.
It is known that the rate of GBV is positively correlated with the onset of crisis situations. Yet, the particular circumstances of the COVID19 pandemic response exacerbate domestic violence gravely.
The risk of experiencing intra-familial violence is increased by the conditions forced upon people due to the COVID19 pandemic response: loss of income and food insecurity for those unable to work from home; work related stress experienced by those able to work from home; health related anxieties or ailment and shifting responsibility roles within families.
Most glaringly, state mandated quarantines and curfews unintentionally aid perpetrators to achieve a higher control over their victims. Victims, under quarantine or curfew, also experience increased difficulties in accessing hygiene materials, life-saving information, shelters and other victim support organisations.
Thus, it is clear that instances of domestic violence are not only correlated but also exacerbated by COVID19 pandemic response.
Domestic violence crimes rates are going up as other crimes are going down
In the US, confinement measures have propelled a sharp decline in the crime rate of many big cities including a small decline domestic violence calls for help. Conversely, most European countries report a sharp increase in domestic violence calls for help.
It is thought that the reason why domestic calls for help have declined in some places is due to the victim’s inability to get ‘alone time’ in order to make those calls. A decrease in the calls for help also does not signify domestic crime is decreasing. In fact, intra-household murder rates seem to be increasing even in the US cities that reported a decrease in domestic violence calls for help.
Some European countries such as Denmark denote a two and a half time increase in the number of calls for help during the set quarantine period in comparison with the first two months of the year. The WHO (World Health Organisation) has also been troubled by reports from many European countries including but not exclusive to Belgium, Spain, the UK about increases in domestic violence.
Innovative responses to tackle GBV during the Covid19 pandemic
Despite the grave impact of the COVID19 related restrictions on victims there is a shortage of GBV response methods that do well given this new context. Furthermore, many traditional GBV responses (inluding centres, shelters and healthcare) are being defunded as resources are mobilised towards coronavirus response and prevention.
As many countries grapple to curb the increase of COVID19 infections, several states and non-state actors strive to minimize the effects of COVID19 response on domestic violence.
Portugal has launched a free domestic violence text service to combat the difficulties of victims in accessing help due to lack of ‘alone time’. Human Rights Defenders in Uganda have now set up a toll-free line to respond to domestic violence cases. Chinese activists, who have seen a doubling of GBV rate in some provinces have launched a social media campaign with the hashtag #AntiDomesticViolenceDuringtheEpidemic.
The GBV AOR (an organisation comprised of NGOs, UN agencies and academia professionals) is also offering one-to-one meetings with other professionals who are integrating GBV response in their humanitarian aid and development projects.
How you can help victims of domestic violence during the quarantine
- Contribute towards local GBV related shelters and NGOs by volunteering and/or making a donation.
- Share information with regards to the prevention and response of GBV by phone and through your social media.
- If you think someone you know might be suffering from domestic violence please check in with potential victims through email, text message or phone. Also, contact your country’s GBV hotline/helpline for further advice (directory in Europe: https://ec.europa.eu/justice/saynostopvaw/helpline.html; GBV hotlines in various countries: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_domestic_violence_hotlines)
- If you believe the victim is in current danger of grave physical harm or death, immediately contact local authorities.