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Lockdown and domestic abuse: when staying at home is not safe

Updated: May 13, 2020

Since the world grapples with the spread of Covid-19, the hashtag #stayathome has been launched and almost everybody is being encouraged to go home and stay there, for general safety. In this way – experts think – it will be possible to contain the virus. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of domestic abuse cases. In fact, for victims of domestic violence, being at home may not be a safe option and it may be making violence in homes more frequent.

International crises of this caliber ramp up so much stress among families that it could breed danger in homes where violence may not have been an issue before. Now, experts worry that the already high number of domestic violence (and, more generally, abuse) cases will increase considerably during this period of social distancing and quarantine. The concern stems from certain and ill-fated past experiences: among other examples, after Hurricane Harvey, cases boosted exponentially and the stress associated with the calamity led to higher rates of both domestic violence and child abuse.

Flourishing in the conditions created by the pandemic like an opportunistic infection, domestic abuse numbers are currently rising. Social factors that jeopardize victims of domestic violence are a reduced access to resources, increased stress due to job loss and disconnection. Now, with families in lockdown worldwide, hotlines are lighting up with abuse reports, leaving the state machine trying to solve the foretold crisis.

To help these vulnerable groups during the pandemic, psychologists and social service organizations are seeking to provide emergency domestic violence and child abuse resources in response to the expected rise in cases. These institutions are continually communicating about which shelters are open or closed, in order to help organizations that may be understaffed or underfunded. The staff’s well-being is not to be underestimated as well. They are subjected to an emotional load that could expose them to high risks. They should adopt a long-term view and be prepared for an uptick in demand for care and social services related to domestic violence and child abuse.

In several European countries, those in domestic abuse danger are being told to report the abuse to any health-care providers, using the code word “mask 19” if they can’t speak openly. Moreover, Spain and France powered up an interesting venture. Spain has made hotels available for abused women and their children, in case the shelters no longer have available places, to deal with the quarantine required for the Covid-19 epidemic. And France got on the same page announcing a similar measure: given the increase in reports to the police of incidents of domestic abuse, in addition to providing hotel rooms, authorities are opening listening points near shops, so that women can go there while they shop.

In Portugal, the Vodafone Portugal Foundation has created a support line to the number 3060, which allows victims who want to ask for help to send free and confidential SMS (there are no records in monthly invoice details). The usual telephone line (800 202 148) and e-mail (violê for emergencies managed and coordinated by the Gender Equality Commission remain active as well.

Hopefully such initiatives will be taken by all countries, especially countries where the position of women is still formally subordinate and where many cases of domestic abuse are recorded daily. In this way, however, the victim of domestic abuse, being forced to leave the house to save her/his own skin, suffers a double victimization.

By Giulia Peroni

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