Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, domestic violence cases have been rampant.
According to data collected by the United Nations, 243 million women and girls between the ages of fifteen and forty-nine worldwide were subjected to sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner in the last twelve months.
One in three women has experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in her life. LGBTQ+ individuals experience similarly high levels of violence. During times of crisis—such as natural disasters, wars, and epidemics—the risk of gender-based-violence escalates.
As soon as the coronary disease, COVID-19 has widely spread globally, the government in various countries have ordered its citizens to stay at home to protect themselves, it also meant a rise in domestic violence at the comforts of their own homes—affecting the vast majority of women, children, and even LGBTQ+ individuals.
The Harmful Effects of Coronavirus
Difficult times such as this pandemic have also lead to a rising number of sick people, growing unemployment rate, increased anxiety, depression, financial stress, and a scarcity of community resources, along with domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse.
Gathered data from many regions show significant increases in domestic violence cases, particularly among marginalized populations. Take for example the Middle East and North Africa, which have the world’s fewest laws protecting women from domestic violence. Based on the analysis by UN Women on the gendered impacts of COVID-19, Palestinian territories found an increase in gender-based violence, and warned that the pandemic will likely affect women, worsen preexisting gendered risks and vulnerabilities, as well as widen the gap in inequalities.
COVID-19 Coinciding with Domestic Violence
From Europe to Asia, millions of people have been placed under lockdown, as the coronavirus infects more than 183,000 people. But Anita Bhatia, the Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Women tells TIME that “the very technique we are using to protect people from the virus can perversely impact victims of domestic violence.” She stated that “while we absolutely support the need to follow these measures of social distancing and isolation, we also recognize that it provides an opportunity for abusers to unleash more violence.”
Triggered by financial problems, and stress, abusers are more likely to be tempted to increase their consumption of alcohol or drugs, and purchase or hoard guns as an emergency measure. Experts have characterized an “invisible pandemic” of domestic violence during the COVID-19 crisis.
Many victims have been isolated in violent and dangerous homes, without the access to resources or communication to friends and family members. The current crisis also makes it more difficult for victims to seek help. As medical facilities around the world look for ways to respond to the coronavirus, healthcare systems are becoming overloaded, making it more difficult for victims to get access to medical care or therapists.
After experiencing physical abuse, the fear of being infected by the coronavirus has stopped women from seeking help from medical health care facilities.
As the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations have emphasized, countries must incorporate a gender perspective in their responses to the COVID-19 crisis. Several countries and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have already taken innovative steps to solve this problem. Modern campaigns also have been used via social media to spread awareness of resources available to survivors, including hotlines, text message–based reporting, and mobile applications.
How Countries Deal with Domestic Violence
Countries such as France have implemented a text message service, and a reporting app was recently introduced in Italy.
Meanwhile, Spain introduced a new system where women can inform pharmacists of abuse by using the code word 'mask 19', allowing the pharmacy staff to alert the emergency services.
Other countries such as France, Germany, Italy, Norway and Argentina have also adopted this system.
However, further action and awareness must be done to share information and develop evidence on the effectiveness of these new initiatives to prevent domestic violence from happening during the lockdown.