Coronavirus & Domestic Abuse
In an unequal world, crises like the coronavirus pandemic disproportionately affect women. Though recent evidence shows men are more likely to die from coronavirus, cultural and socio-economic factors impact women during crisis in other ways. In this blog, we look at the link between coronavirus and domestic abuse. With the global, rapid spread of the virus, many countries are in lockdown, encouraging people to stay home and stay safe – but homes aren’t always safe for women.
Women are not necessarily safe in their own homes
In the UK, the National Domestic Abuse helpline has saw a 25% increase in calls and online requests for help in the second week of lockdown, with visits to their website increasing by 150% during the last week of February 2020. By the third week of lockdown, calls rose by 49%. This increase is not isolated to the UK – in countries all over the world governments, activists and civil society partners have flagged a significant surge in reports of domestic violence during the coronavirus crisis. France have seen a 30% increase in domestic violence cases, helplines in Singapore and Cypress have seen 30% increase in calls, and 40% of frontline workers in New South Wales, Australia, have reported an increase in requests for help with violence. There is a clear link between the global response to coronavirus and the amount of domestic abuse cases.
Why is this happening?
Even prior to the coronavirus outbreak and the global lockdowns that followed, domestic violence was one of the biggest human rights violations and a priority of the UN. Underreporting of domestic violence cases has made responses and data gathering difficult; less than 40% of women who experience violence seek help or report the incident and less than 10% of those women who do, actually go to the police. This is also impacted by the fact that 1 in 4 countries have no laws specifically protecting women from domestic violence. This suggests that the actual figures are potentially higher than we know.
Globally, 6 out of 10 women intentionally killed are murdered by an intimate partner or family member, the exact people who women are likely to be isolated with during lockdown. Furthermore, Counting Dead Women, a project which records the killing of women by men in the UK, has identified at least 16 killings between 23rd March and 12th April 2020, while data from the same period over the last 10 years records an average of 5 deaths. This clearly evidences a link between coronavirus and domestic abuse, to the extent that lives have been lost.
Confinement can foster the tension and strain caused by the security, health and money concerns of a household. This, combined with the fact that victims are now separated from their friends and family, as well as the resources that can help them, is a recipe for controlling and violent behaviour behind closed doors. There is also an added strain to people’s mental health.
If not addressed, the increase in domestic violence cases will also add to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The global cost of violence against women has previously been estimated at roughly 8 trillion USD, a figure which is likely to rise as the cases of violence increase.
Globally, women also typically earn less than men and are therefore unable to save as much. They also take on more unpaid care work, which has increased exponentially as a result of school closures and the increased needs of elderly people. Consequently, women are more at risk of falling into poverty as a result of the pandemic.
What can be done?
As the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, 2020 was set to be a ground-breaking year for gender equality. Instead, we’re seeing a significant increase in violence against women as the coronavirus pandemic deepens pre-existing inequalities and exposes disparity in social, economic, and political systems worldwide.
[blockquote] “Put women and girls at the centre of efforts to recover from COVID-19” – Statement by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres
To offset the rise in domestic violence during the coronavirus pandemic, urgent support needs to be provided to the millions of people who may now be experiencing violence, abuse or harassment as a result of the lockdown. Resources need to be made available to report, control and manage the increase in domestic abuse cases and funds need to be put towards technology based solutions such as online groups and networks, video and phone counselling, and online reporting, while social distancing measures are in place. Police need to mobilise to ensure incidents of domestic violence are given high-priority and governments need to inform communities of the helplines, websites and networks available to those suffering from abuse, and encourage an equal share of domestic work, so that the burden does not fall solely on women.
If you are experiencing domestic abuse or violence you can contact any of the following organisations to get help and advice: Domestic abuse help and support
Save Lives have also issued specific guidance for victims and survivors of domestic abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic.