As infection rates soared worldwide and deaths began to rise, as did domestic violence cases with them. During a pandemic, home should be the safest place for everyone. However, for victims of domestic violence, lockdown means being trapped inside with an abuser. As world leaders announce impending lockdowns, many women’s rights activists also warned that domestic violence cases would spike rapidly as a consequence.
The Domestic Violence Death Toll Rises in the UK
In the UK alone, researchers at the Counting Dead Women Project told MPs that in the UK, 14 women and two children had been killed in the first three weeks of lockdown. This leaves the UK with a death rate of more than double the average rate throughout just the first three weeks of lockdown.
Domestic Violence is already rife in normal circumstances. In 2019, two women a week were killed by either a current or former partner and in the year ending March 2019, 1.6 million women experienced domestic abuse – this is in England and Wales alone.Office for National Statistics (2019) Domestic abuse victim characteristics, England and Wales: year ending March 2019
Office for National Statistics (2019) Homicide in England and Wales: year ending March 2018 (average taken over 10 years)
In April, less than one month into the lockdown in the UK, the Metropolitan Police officers were arrested, on average,100 people a day for domestic violence-related offenses in London alone, showing the deadly impacts of lockdown for some of the most vulnerable people in society. This indicates that although the virus does not discriminate against people, lockdown clearly does, leaving mainly women and children at the hands of their intemperate abusers.
“The many ramifications of the outbreak may also mean that women and their children could find it even harder to access safety and specialist support.”Rebecca Hitchen, campaigns manager at the End Violence Against Women Coalition
The Impact on Europe’s domestic violence services
Europe has also seen a spike in domestic violence claims being reported since the government initiated lockdowns. One of France’s domestic abuse hotlines ran by The National Federation of Women Solidarity saw double to triple the usual daily number of calls since France’s lockdown on 17th March. Former French President François Hollande also expressed his concern for French women experiencing abuse throughout the countries lockdown. Hollande stated, “For too long violence against women has been pushed aside because it was considered part of the personal, the private, and not something that concerned society.”
Elsewhere in Europe, after Greece initiated their lockdown in March, a government helpline received nearly four times as many complaints in April as they had the month prior. In Spain, calls to their helpline for domestic violence victims were also up 30.7% in comparison to the previous year.
Russia experiences a spike in calls reporting domestic violence
Cases of domestic abuse have since doubled in Russia during their lockdown. Calls to Non-Governmental Organisations rose by a staggering 7,000 in April, with 13,000 calls being made to report domestic abuse in the country. On the 5th April, The United Nations called on governments everywhere to take “urgent action” to combat the disturbing surge in domestic violence. “I urge all governments to put women’s safety first as they respond to the pandemic,” Secretary-General António Guterres stated on Twitter. On the 7th May, The World Health Organisation joined the United Nations in expressing its deep concern that emergency calls by women being made to report domestic violence from their partner had risen by 60% compared with last year.
This exponential rise in reported domestic violence clearly shows us that now is not the time to stay silent on the issue. We need to do more to protect victims of domestic violence, and they cannot become a forgotten cause. Activists such as Katja Grieger have stressed: “This is why we’re calling on neighbors to be extra aware of possible cases of domestic violence, If you hear loud shouts or cries in neighboring apartments, call the police.”. We need to be cautious and safe when it comes to COVID-19, but we cannot neglect some of the most vulnerable people in society at a time when they need us the most.