A Hidden Epidemic: Lockdown causes rise in domestic abuse cases
May 6, 2020
3 min read
What's going on here?
Lockdown measures imposed to prevent the spread of coronavirus have created a rise in the number of cases of domestic abuse being reported to charities and authorities.
What does this mean?
People all over the world are out of work due to the widespread appeal to stay at home. However, this has a much more acute effect on victims of domestic abuse, as victims are forced to self-isolate with their abusers. This has caused an inevitable increase in violence.
In the UK, the prevalence of domestic violence has stayed largely unchanged in recent years. The number of cases reported to the police has increased by 24% from 2018 to 2019. This signals a positive improvement towards better reporting by victims and improved recording by police. Still, charges and prosecutions remain unchanged.
Refuge, the UK’s largest domestic abuse charity, reported a 25% increase in calls during the first week of the lockdown. Experts had warned of this outcome upon the announcement of the lockdown. Hotels and women’s charities have asked the government to offer shelter to help women and children escape domestic abuse. Home Secretary Priti Patel replied by insisting help for all victims of abuse was available.
Around the world, countries are facing a similar struggle. In Hubei, China, domestic violence reports have tripled in February alone. Calls are not always a good indicator. Some victims struggle to seek help with their abusers at home. They resort instead to desperate text messages and emails, as is often the case in Italy, according to Angela Giuffrida writing for the Guardian.
What's the big picture effect?
The rise in domestic abuse case reports during the coronavirus outbreak brings to light an unspoken issue affecting women. In the UK alone over 2.5m people are affected, and over two-thirds are women. Lockdown measures have the unfortunate byproduct of disproportionately putting at risk women and children affected by domestic abuse.
Authorities and charities everywhere have attempted to play their part in mitigating the damage. Spain’s lockdown rules are strict and breaking them incurs a severe fine. However, the government has reassured women that they will not receive fines if they leave home to escape abuse. The Canary Islands’ Institute for Equality has pioneered a campaign called “Mascarilla-19” (Mask-19). Victims of abuse can request a “mask-19” from their local pharmacy, alerting the chemist of the abuse, who can then alert emergency services. France, Germany, Italy, Norway and Argentina have since adopted the measure.
There is a gap between cases reported to charities and cases reported to police. This has caused concern that victims are unable or unwilling to come forward. When reporting to police, women stumble upon many barriers such as fear of being discovered by their abuser, uncertainty about what services are available and if they even have a chance at a positive outcome. Recently, fear of infection causes added anxiety. Charities are working hard trying to fill in the gaps left by governments both in the UK and abroad.
It seems that progress is being made to mitigate the effects of lockdown on victims of abuse while containing the present pandemic. But are authorities doing enough to contain the epidemic of domestic abuse that has disproportionately affected women since time immemorial?
If you or someone close to you feels unsafe because of domestic abuse, there is support available. In the UK, you can call the freephone, 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline number – 0808 2000 247 – run by Refuge. If you are in immediate danger because of domestic abuse, call 999.
Report written by Andreea Dicu
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