In the midst of a global pandemic caused by the coronavirus, countries have called for social distancing and self-isolation. While this is the best option to keep others healthy and safe from the virus, there are still negative gendered implications. In this time of being considerate of each other’s health and protecting one another, it’s important to realize that the effects of social distancing go beyond catching the virus. With schools, businesses, personal homes, and even entire cities closed, gender-based violence has increased. More specifically, domestic violence rates have skyrocketed.
Staying at home is the best response for many families as it slows the spread of the virus; but for some women, staying at home means being trapped with an abuser. In the last few months, domestic violence shelters have experienced an increase in calls for help as people are kept at home. Most of these phone calls are directly related to social distancing because of the coronavirus. Why is this drastic increase in gender-based violence happening in the first place? According to Ruth Glenn, president of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, “Because we are self-isolating, and particularly if the abusive person is self-isolating and has immediate proximity to the victim or survivor, there are various ways in which the risk element may go up…There are more means by which the abuser can abuse.” Economic hardships and natural disasters have already been historically proven to increase rates of domestic violence, and this pandemic is no different. Women are left with even fewer resources for help and are available to their abuses for much longer periods at a time. For now, social distancing has been extended until April 30th, per the instructions of President Trump.
With companies and homes following new CDC guidelines, it is difficult for a victim of domestic violence to seek refuge from her abuser. “People (are) being locked in rooms, being shot through the doors, prevented from leaving, having to stay because he’s (the abuser) afraid she will go out and get it (the virus).” said Paige Flink, CEO of a domestic violence shelter called The Family Place on the issue. Even when women are able to get away from their abusive partners, there may not be space for them.
Despite the surge in domestic violence cases, many victims haven’t been helped because shelters are full. Women’s shelters are quickly running out of rooms, given the current guideline is to keep people at least six feet apart. Many victims also feel they cannot seek refuge for fear of infecting others or being infected themselves. Women all around the world have been left unable to escape their abuser(s) and have found themselves vulnerable in isolation, and many perpetrators have not been detained because of virus clusters in jails and prisons. In Portland, Oregon, the CEO of a domestic violence hotline shared claims of perpetrators threatening to kick their victims out so they get sick with the virus and others threatening to withhold financial resources and medical assistance. Other hotlines, such as Willow Domestic Violence Center in New York, have claimed that daily calls have doubled.
In China, domestic violence hotlines are having the same experience, reporting that there has been a surge in domestic violence cases since the lockdowns and social distancing started. A police station in Jianli County, China, had 162 reports of domestic violence in just the month of February, which is three times more than usual. This trend is expected to continue as cities are on lockdown. Wan Fei, a founder of an anti-domestic violence nonprofit said, “The epidemic has had a huge impact on domestic violence… According to our statistics, 90% of the causes of violence are related to the COVID-19 epidemic.” This issue is proving prevalent all around the world. According to statistics released by the United Nations, reports of domestic violence in France increased 30 percent following the country’s lockdown on March 17; 18 percent more calls regarding domestic violence were received during the first two weeks of lockdowns in Spain; and helplines in Singapore have received 30 percent more calls since lockdown, too. As NBC News reported, law enforcement agencies across the U.S. have seen domestic violence cases rise up to 35 percent in recent weeks.
While we are facing difficult times, it is important to note that police departments will still respond to domestic violence and all other service calls. Domestic violence organizations have been strategizing new ways to support victims during this time. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres delivered a public statement, calling on governments to “put women’s safety first as they respond to the pandemic.” His message was accompanied by a set of recommendations, including that governments “…increase investment in online services and civil society organizations, declare shelters as essential services, and continue to prosecute abusers and hold in prisons individuals convicted of violence against women.” Other ambassadors from United Nations Women have also called for governments to provide packages for paid sick leave and unpaid care work in order to allow women facing domestic violence to maintain financial independence from their abusers. Various national and state governments are heeding this advice. Canada is keeping domestic violence shelters open and diverting $50 million to support shelters for victims of domestic and gender-based violence. Some European countries have dedicated funding to organizations providing services. France is also covering the cost of temporarily housing survivors in empty hotel rooms and has set up centers in grocery stores where victims can seek help in one of the few places they still are allowed to visit.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline via text or call at 1-800-799-7233. Other numbers include:
- The Family Place Crisis Hotline: 214-941-1991
- Family Violence Prevention: 415-252-8900
- Hope’s Door: 972-422-2911
- National Resource Center on Domestic Violence: 800-537-2238
- The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN): 800-656-4673
- National Coalition Against Domestic Violence: 303-839-1852
Each of these are national organizations that can help you get in touch with shelters, other hotlines, emergency numbers, and law enforcement in your area.
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