COVID-19 has escalated the global gender violence crisis. Because of the stay-at-home orders, increasing cases of domestic violence are being reported. Counting Dead Women, a pioneering project that records femicide in the UK, reports that suspected domestic abuse killings have risen during lockdown. In the past ten years, the average number of killings between 23 March and 12 April was five, but this figure has soared to at least 16. Karen Ingala Smith, the founder of Counting Dead Women and the chief executive of a domestic abuse charity, said that the coronavirus lockdown has not created more violent men, but escalated long-lasting abuse. Moreover, because lockdown significantly reduced social contact, support services have become less accessible.
Rather than receiving calls directly to the helplines, one Italian domestic abuse assistance group called EVA Cooperativa has found there are many more text messages and emails. Lella Palladino, a volunteer, describes one text she received: “It was from a woman who had locked herself in the bathroom and wrote to ask for help. For sure, there is an overwhelming emergency right now. There is more desperation as women can’t go out.”
Fears of increasing rates of domestic violence have emerged around the world. In Wuhan, divorce rates have increased sharply after the city reopened. A Chinese woman named Lele lived with her 11-month-old daughter and her husband during the quarantine. Lele told the New York Times about her suffering: “We were unable to go outside, and our conflicts just grew bigger and bigger and more and more frequent.” “Everything was exposed,” she added. She then shared a photograph of a broken high chair, which was used by her husband to beat her. Similar conflicts are reported in France, Greek, Brazil, Spain, and several other states.
During the stay-at-home orders, some countries have adopted measures to counter the current situation. Firstly, they are maximising every opportunity for victims to ask for help. A programme training supermarket workers to detect domestic abuse is planned in England and Wales. Since going grocery shopping is one of the few “channels of escape” for victims, these staff could be the most accessible group to identify victims. Similarly, communities or neighbourhoods could also participate in the process of stopping domestic violence and raising citizens’ awareness, even setting rewards to encourage residents to report suspicions.
In the UK, despite the fact that leaving one’s residence is not allowed except in a few circumstances, “avoid[ing] injury or illness or escap[ing] the risk of harm” is listed as an exception. It means that people fleeing violent or coercive domestic situations will not be punished by the police as flouting lockdown regulations. In addition, local governments could consider further strategies, such as offering temporary shelters to these victims to avoid secondary damage amid quarantine.
Developing online support services could be another practical solution. For instance, apps with alarm-systems could be developed: users would register necessary information like names and addresses, and if abuse were to occur, victims could trigger the system via a specific voice command. In the face of emergencies, victims need hidden and quick ways to seek help. Thus, technology could probably offer an effective solution.
It is crucial in times of crisis to help those that are most vulnerable in society. When it comes to domestic abuse, this is a hidden challenge that must be quickly and tactfully tackled.
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