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Domestic Violence X The COVID-19 pandemic

Every day, around 137 women in the world are killed by a member of their family. Domestic violence is a horribly prevalent issue, and one that has only worsened since the pandemic. As families ‘isolate’ together, and stressful conditions continue, rates of domestic violence rise. Throughout the world, organizations have been working to try and help those who are being abused, or, as some have called it, trying to combat the “shadow pandemic” of domestic violence.

“Violence in the home, predominantly perpetrated by men against women and children is a pandemic within the pandemic. Through our Women’s Alliance for Security Leadership (WASL) global network we are also hearing of the rise in child sex abuse as well as femicide,” says Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, Founder and CEO of International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) which offers recommendations to governments and the international community based on consultation with WASL partners across 38 countries.

In Spain, the emergency number for domestic violence received 18 percent more calls in the first two weeks of lockdown than in the same period a month earlier. “We’ve been getting some very distressing calls, showing us clearly just how intense psychological as well as physical mistreatment can get when people are kept 24 hours a day together within a reduced space,” said Ana Bella, who set up a foundation to help other women after surviving domestic violence herself. In the Canary Islands, Spain women can send “Mark-19” code to pharmacies to report abuse.

This is not the only country experiencing these concerning spikes. In China, a Beijing-based NGO dedicated to combating violence against women, Equality, has seen a surge in calls to its help line since early February, when the government locked down cities in Hubei Province, then the outbreak’s epicenter. China’s Jianli County received 162 reports of domestic violence in February–compared to 47 during the period last year.

Similarly, in Colombia, intrafamily violence against women ages 29 to 59 spiked 94 percent between March and May, a study showed. Officials in Paraguay received reports of at least 80 abuse cases a day in March, a 35 percent jump from the same month a year earlier. Additionally, the Australian Women’s Safety New South Wales survey found 40% of frontline workers reporting increased requests for help by survivors, an increase of 70% during the pandemic.

In Canada, $50 million has been designated to support shelters for sexual violence and other forms of gender-based violence. Almost as soon as the pandemic began, agencies helping survivors of domestic violence warned that victims would suffer as a result of quarantine rules, and the survey of 376 staff and volunteers working at transition houses, shelters, immigration centres and other social agencies coast-to-coast confirms those fears.

Almost half of those surveyed said they noticed changes in the prevalence and severity of violence, with 82 percent saying the violence increased and got more frequent. A fifth said abusers' violent tactics changed and control over their victims increased, including a sharp uptick in cases of strangulation, the survey found.

In the United Kingdom, calls, emails and website visits to Respect, the national domestic violence charity, have increased 97 per cent, 185 per cent and 581 per cent respectively. In the first 3 weeks of COVID-19 lockdowns, 14 women and 2 children were murdered in the country.

To help those experiencing domestic violence, in France, Germany, Italy, Norway and Spain, pharmacies and supermarkets have become safe “go-to” spaces where the utterance of a code word (“MASK 19”) signals an urgent request for protection from domestic abusers. These locations are in many cases the only retailers open, and shopping for essential groceries is the only accepted reason for people to leave their homes.

These alarming stories from countries worldwide represent only a small fraction of the too many affected by domestic violence. As the second wave continues, everyone must do their best to help anyone who may be experiencing this. As a world, more has to be done to help people who are cooped up with their abusers.

If you or someone you care about is experiencing violence, here are a few suggestions that may help:

  • Create a safety plan to outline ways to remain safe while you are in your current situation, planning to leave, or after you leave.

  • Practice self-care as much as possible.

  • If it is safe, reach out for help and try to maintain social connections through phone calls, texts, emails, and social media platforms.

  • Call a local helpline.

Written by Sophie Block

Illustrated by Jeia So

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