Wan Fei, the founder of an anti-domestic violence NGO in China reported a huge increase in the country’s domestic violence cases in February. Jingzhou, a province in Hubei, received 3 times more reports in February 2020 than in the previous year. As cases of Covid-19 began to climb around the world, so did cases of domestic violence.
As the world’s attention was focused on the pandemic, women’s rights activists and service providers warned us that domestic violence victims would be overlooked, survivor services would be de-prioritised and the fear and tension during the crisis would result in a sharp increase in cases. As we saw the numbers of domestic violence cases rapidly increase in China where the pandemic started, we could assume that this pattern would follow in other countries. This assumption was proven to be true, as there has been an increase in domestic violence cases as lockdowns started all over the world.
Domestic abuse was a global human right issue even in pre-pandemic times. According to statistics, 1 in 3 women face physical or sexual violence, mostly perpetuated by an intimate partner. While this makes violence against women the most widespread human rights abuses, it is also the least reported. Domestic abuse is often still viewed as a ‘normal’ act due to women’s subordinate position in society and families. Other reasons may include fear, lack of resources and support, or illegal status of refugees. The last is because women who do not have a right to stay permit often do not dare to go to the police in fear of being deported. This is why it is important to note that the domestic abuse commissioner for England and Wales, Nicole Jacobs, encouraged women with illegal status not to fear deportation but to report abuses.
The women who experience violence are vulnerable to sexual, reproductive and mental health risks. For example, victims are twice as likely to suffer from depression and 1.5 times more likely to get STIs. These risks are increased in times of conflict, let it be economic crisis, civil war, or a disease outbreak. It is therefore safe to assume that this will also be the case for millions of women across the globe during the COVID-19 pandemic. While for some of us staying home means safety, for many women and children home means the opposite. The quarantine poses a special situation as women are trapped inside with the abusers, who are more easily triggered by things due to being in such a stressful situation. It is important to note however, that the pandemic does not cause domestic abuse, but creates ‘conductive contexts’.
We have seen several cases of the increase of domestic violence cases globally. For example in the USA, a domestic violence hotline in Portland, Oregon doubled in only one week in March. The American national domestic violence hotline reported a dozens of callers whose abusers are using the coronavirus outbreak to control and isolate them. As everyone is focused on the public health crisis, hotlines fear that violence happening in the private sphere will be overlooked. Some states even seized this opportunity to make it more difficult to access abortion as ‘non-essential’ healthcare. Even though, logically, if domestic violence cases are going up so will unwanted pregnancies.
Numbers of cases of domestic abuse is also going up in Lebanon. Calls to the domestic violence hotline increased by 110% in March 2020. The NGO Abaad started a movement dubbed #LockDownNotLockUp, where people stood outside their balconies hanging sheets with the number of the domestic abuse hotline.
Activists in Italy reported a drop in calls to the helpline centre only to receive a record amount of text messages and emails. As victims are forced to be in the same rooms as their abusers they often cannot voice their problems out loud and this is the only way they can let others know what is happening. It is also important to remember that if women are afraid to ring helplines, but numbers of reports are still increasing globally, how many more cases are happening that goes unreported.
In the UK calls to the national abuse hotline went up by 65% in March. Another hotline, Respect, had a 26.86% increase in calls but a 125% increase in website recordings in the week starting 30 March. This shows how women in Italy are not alone, women in the UK are often unable to make phone calls and try for a silent solution as well. Additionally, The Men’s Advice Line, who care for male victims of domestic abuse, also had an increase in calls of 16.6% and an increase of website recordings 42%.
Avon and Somerset police reported a 20.9% increase in domestic abuse incidents in two weeks, from 718 to 868. The founder of Counting Dead Women, Karen Ingala Smith, recorded at least 16 women who were killed by men in the UK between 23 March and 12 April. This is at least twice as much as the average in the last 10 years. The domestic abuse commissioner for England and Wales, Nicole Jacobs, said police are ready to deal with a spike in domestic abuse calls. The leader of the Women’s Equality party called for special police powers to evict perpetrators from homes under the lockdown, and for authorities to waive court fees for the protection orders.
In early May the government pledged £76 million new funding for domestic and sexual violence support, vulnerable children & modern slavery, but the EVAW Coalition is calling for more detail on how the money will be distributed. They are also asking the government to follow the BAME demand for ethnicity monitoring of all COVID- 19 cases, as BAME communities are disproportionately affected and therefore BAME communities and organisations deserve ring fenced funding to address this issue. As lockdown has continued, there has been a shift in awareness regarding the risk of domestic violence. Supermarkets, one of the only few places that remained open during lockdown, have run initiatives including Tesco included the national hotline on their receipts and Morrison’s opened safe places in their pharmacies where those concerned can get advice from trained consultants.
Image: AP Photo/Jenny Kane
Although we’re nearing the end of the UK’s nearly three-month lockdown, this wave of domestic violence the effects on the survivors will be long-lasting. Now, more than ever, we need to ensure that support services are available to them. The Circle has supported Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis with its new text helpline, in order to reach vulnerable women and girls who may not be able to speak on the phone. We have also made grants to Irise Uganda, to support them with their emergency relief and domestic violence prevention work.
Some general and specific advice for people living in the UK
- England: The National Domestic Abuse Helpline is 0808 2000 247, available 24 hours a day 7 days a week. You can visit their website for more information.
- England: The Respect phone line 0808 8024040 is open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm. You can visit their website for more information.
- Scotland: The Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline is 0800 0271234 24, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Visit their website here.
- Northern Ireland: The 24-Hour Domestic and Sexual Abuse Helpline is 0808 8021414, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. More information here.
- Wales: The Live Fear Free Helpline is 08088010800, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They also have a website.
- If you are a man experiencing domestic abuse call 0808 8010327 or visit their advice line.
- You can make silent 999 calls to the police by waiting for the call handler to pick up making some kind of a cough or any sound at all and pressing 5,5.
- The app can be disguised for people worried about partners checking their phones, provided support and information for victims.
Here are some precautions you can take to look out for each other:
- If you are a postal worker, delivery driver, food delivery company or a carer who still visits houses, keep an eye out for any signs of abuse and to report any concerns to the police.
- Neighbours should pay extra attention in hearing shouts, cries, or any noise that could be associated with violence. In case you suspect something bad is happening in a neighbouring house/flat please call the police.
This article was written by Csenge. Csenge is a university student, a volunteer, and a feminist. She is originally from Hungary, but has started my university in London, which she loves.