For many people under lockdown in different countries, it is an inconvenience to our normal lives but one that contributes to the “greater good”. We all know that at some stage, things will get back to normal. This is not so for people, a vast percentage of them women, who are in confined conditions with abusive, violent and controlling partners. These women are virtual prisoners in their own homes with their usual “escape” routes cut off. The Guardian, in the UK, reports that there have been increases of calls to domestic abuse hotlines in various countries of between 30 to 50 percent and this does not, of course, include those who are too afraid to make the call. Similarly, calls to child abuse hotlines are also increasing. The figures show a cross section from Asia, Europe, South and North America. The Guardian reported:
“It happens in all crisis situations,” said Marcy Hersh, a senior manager for humanitarian advocacy at Women Deliver. “What we worry about is just as rates of violence are on the rise, the accessibility of services and the ability of women to access these services will decrease. This is a real challenge.”
Many activists are stating that this was a predictable side effect of the lockdown and extra measures might have been taken beforehand to combat it like campaigns and extra staff allocated for helplines. In many countries, refuges have been shut down due to lack of public and private financing, leaving victims with nowhere to go. In Spain, the first domestic violence fatality was announced where a husband murdered his wife in front of her children.
Just how many of these cases are seen as a result to the lockdown is not known but it is evident that anyone who was in a controlling abusive relationship before that is certainly not going to find things easier being trapped with their abuser. Many abuse victims live with controlling partners who monitor their every move including phone calls and internet activity. Those who have the courage to leave will have their choices of refuge limited by virus measures. Many coercive and abuse partners will also see this as a chance to increase controlling behaviour as they have a virtual prisoner in their grasp.
Charities and activists are more concerned about the ” silent” abuse victims who keep quiet about it, do not share it with family or friends for fear of retribution for them or their children. In these cases, they are asking that we are all vigilant. As one police force in the UK stated:
“Many communities have helped pick up shopping and prescriptions for the elderly and most vulnerable during the coronavirus restrictions – and now we need to ask communities to look out for those who could be experiencing domestic violence. If you think your friend or neighbour is being abused, now might be the time they want help”
“If you’re doing their shopping as they’re in isolation and you suspect they’re being abused, pass them a discreet note if it’s safe – now we have to be more vigilant than ever of domestic violence”.
The increased awareness seems to be helping as governments and charities get to grips with the increase. France, which has seen a massive increase in calls to domestic abuse lines, is putting victims in hotels under secure conditions. Italy is forcing the abuser to leave the home (though they don’t state where they have to go) and the UK is running various new schemes. However, as stated, these measures will only help those who have the courage and opportunity to report abuse. We must all be mindful of family and friends where this opportunity is taken away.
In the UK, the domestic violence helpline is 0808 2000 247. In Australia, the national family violence counselling service is on 1800 737 732. In the US, the domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org