Identified as a “shadow pandemic” by UN Women, domestic abuse has skyrocketed under global lockdown. UN chief António Guterres has urged all governments to increase their response to this epidemic and to prioritize the physical and emotional safety of survivors at all costs. However, with isolation measures facilitating and exacerbating abusive forms of control, women around the world have found their health and liberty dangerously compromised.
In China’s Hubei province, the original epicentre of Covid-19, reports made to police concerning domestic violence tripled across the month of February. In Jordan, reports indicate a similar rise in abuse figures, as women’s ability to escape from abusive home environments has been entirely rescinded. Data from Canada suggests that one in 10 women are “very or extremely” concerned about the threat of domestic violence. Calls to abuse helplines have risen exponentially according to Angela MacDougall, Executive Director of Canada’s Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS). “As soon as we went 24/7, our calls steadily increased – 50 percent to 100 percent until the peak at 300 percent,” resulting in what Ms MacDougall dubbed “a pandemic on top of a pandemic.” With nowhere to go, 40 percent of women seeking help from BWSS are now estimated to be trapped living in abusive homes.
In the United Kingdom, leading domestic abuse charity, Refuge, reported a 700 percent increase in calls to its helpline in a single day. However, nationwide capacity to respond to these calls remains fundamentally limited. 84 percent of domestic abuse service providers have been forced to reduce or cancel services, including the provision of vital refuge spaces. Efforts to plug holes in this malfunctioning system, via emergency funding and the enlistment of assistance from private corporations, represent a wholly unsustainable model of support. Pharmacy group Boots have installed safe spaces in consultation rooms across the U.K., providing temporary refuges for survivors to contact support services. Several major hotel chains have also opened their doors to those fleeing abuse, waiving fees for the duration of their stay. Both ventures, as admirable and outwardly commendable as they are, remain meagre compensation for the gaps in provision comprising the root cause of Britain’s Coronavirus abuse crisis.
Since 2010, Conservative majority government has reduced allowances for domestic abuse refuges, cutting spending from £31.2m in 2010 to £23.9m in 2017. Divisive Home Office policy has ensured a significant proportion of migrant women are disbarred from accessing housing benefits, benefits which are required for them to access the few remaining refuge spaces available. Furthermore, the introduction of Universal Credit, aimed at streamlining the U.K.’s malfunctioning benefits system, has further contributed to domestic oppression, with its system of payments to a single bank account per household exacerbating the economic abuse of women. Therefore, whilst emergency financial support for social services was presented at the start of May, it truly appears that this reflects a case of shutting the stable door long after the proverbial horse has bolted.
One might argue that the Coronavirus crisis constitutes an unprecedented challenge, one which negates any notion of blame and accountability due to its utterly unpredictable nature. But just as it is right for us to ask difficult questions of state leaders who failed to stock PPE, or maintain an adequate supply of usable ventilators, so it remains of the utmost importance that we continue to hold governments across the world to account for their shortcomings in ensuring reliable social welfare. Be that in the U.K., Canada or the Middle East, we must continue to question why Covid-19 has had such a profoundly detrimental effect away in addition to its core risk to life. Why has the NHS been unable to preserve the lives of so many non Covid-19 patients? How has the United States’ pre-existing health crisis resulted in the highest number of global deaths? And why has a system of isolation designed to preserve human life resulted in such an unforgivable rise in global domestic abuse?