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COVID-19 lockdown: How countries are dealing with the surge in domestic violence

In India, the National Commission for Women has flagged the spike in cases of domestic violence since the enforcement of the national lockdown.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: April 7, 2020 9:41:17 pm
Reports showed that while fewer women called helplines than usual, the number of instant messages to aid organisations had gone up, suggesting that perpetrators could be preventing their victims from reporting incidents via phone. (Source Thinkstock)

UN Secretary-General António Guterres Monday appealed governments to pay attention to and prevent a “horrifying global surge in domestic violence” over the last few weeks amid lockdown measures imposed by several countries to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week, the Council of Europe, an intergovernmental human rights agency comprising 47 member states, also expressed concern about the increase in domestic violence during lockdowns due to the coronavirus, and said women and children were at greater risk of abuse within their own homes during this period.

How countries are dealing with the rise in domestic violence cases

Last week, the French government said since lockdown measures were announced in the country, the number of domestic violence reports made to the police had gone up by 36 per cent in Paris, and 32 per cent in the rest of the country, including two murders.

Reports showed that while fewer women called helplines than usual, the number of instant messages to aid organisations had gone up, suggesting that perpetrators could be preventing their victims from reporting incidents via phone.

The French government subsequently announced an additional EUR 1 million to fund relief organisations working against domestic abuse, to help them cater to the increased number of requests for help.

It has also promised to open up pop-up counselling centres and pay for hotel rooms for domestic violence victims. Victims have also been encouraged to seek help at pharmacies discreetly.

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In Italy, the government has launched an app that enables domestic violence victims to seek help without making a phone call. A proposal to allocate EUR 4 million for shelters for victims is also being considered, an NBC report said.

In the UK, since the lockdown started, the National Domestic Abuse helpline saw a 25 per cent rise in calls and online requests for help, the BBC reported on Monday.

The helpline’s website had 150 per cent more views compared to the last week of February, the report said.

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On March 31, the Scottish government promised support for victims of domestic violence during the outbreak, and announced grants of over GBP 1.5 million for Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland over six months to ensure that access to support services is maintained.

While the UK government is yet to announce measures, Home Secretary Priti Patel has said, “You will not get away with your crimes,” referring to abusers.

In the US, where gun sales have been setting record highs during the pandemic, many have expressed an increased sentiment of alarm about the welfare of women and children. CNN on April 4 reported double-digit increases in domestic violence in 20 large metropolitan police departments in the US in March this year.

In India too, the National Commission for Women (NCW) has flagged the issue of a spike in cases of domestic violence since the enforcement of the national lockdown.

NCW chief Rekha Sharma said the number of domestic violence cases must be much higher, but the women are scared to complain due to the constant presence of their abusers at home. Sharma said from March 24 till April 1, the NCW has received 69 domestic violence complaints and they are increasing by the day.

“Since the pandemic, the UN is reporting that Lebanon and Malaysia, for example, have seen the number of calls to helplines double, compared with the same month last year; in China they have tripled; and in Australia, search engines such as Google are seeing the highest magnitude of searches for domestic violence help in the past five years,” the UN News website posted on Sunday.

“These numbers give some indication of the scale of the problem, but only cover countries where reporting systems are in place: as the virus spreads in countries with already weak institutions, less information and data will be available, but it is expected that the vulnerability of women and girls will be higher,” it said.

Here’s a quick Coronavirus guide from Express Explained to keep you updated: What can cause a COVID-19 patient to relapse after recovery? | COVID-19 lockdown has cleaned up the air, but this may not be good news. Here’s why | Can alternative medicine work against the coronavirus? | A five-minute test for COVID-19 has been readied, India may get it too | How India is building up defence during lockdown | Why only a fraction of those with coronavirus suffer acutely | How do healthcare workers protect themselves from getting infected? | What does it take to set up isolation wards?

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