The Shadow Pandemic:
Domestic Violence and COVID-19
In the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic, a more private war is worsening in some homes. While most of the world is asked to stay confined to save lives, others are hurt and victims of abusive, sometimes dangerous partners. Where women are isolated at homes, reports show an increase of more than 30% of domestic violence against them.
The Chairman and CEO of Kering, François-Henri Pinault, had already rung the alarm bell in New York last December at the annual Voices of Solidarity gala where he was being honored for the visionary work of his foundation to combat this invisible plight: “Gender-based violence is so universal, so extreme and so devastating that we must call it what it really is: an emergency.”
In these unprecedented times of isolation, the Kering Foundation has not only made emergency donations to its partner NGOs but has also launched a social media campaign in the United States, France, the UK and Italy to help survivors seek aid and make accessible support more visible: #YouAreNotAlone.
Even more than an emergency, this is now “a shadow pandemic,” said UN Under-Secretary-General and UN Women Deputy Executive Director Anita Bhatia during an online conference on the status of women and COVID-19 organized by the Georgetown Institute for Women Peace and Security. “It has actually been a pandemic all along,” which “has never received enough attention,” she added.
“For many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest: in their own homes” | UN Secretary-General António Guterres
There were 87,000 femicides worldwide in 2017 according to the UN, and 50,000 of these murders were committed by an intimate partner. The unfortunate reality is that one out of three women suffers or will suffer from domestic violence in her life.
Numbers have now reached new heights. Since the beginning of the confinement policies to curb Covid-19, the United Nations and various NGOs have recorded a “terrifying” increase in the number of documented abuse cases. A figure published by the UN sums up the extent of the tragedy: in the twelve months preceding the Covid-19 pandemic, 243 million women and girls, aged 15 to 49 years, were subjected to an act of sexual and/or physical violence perpetrated by an intimate partner. Governments in France have now reported an increase of 30% of domestic abuse complaints since the launch of the lockdown last March 17. In Singapore, the increase is 30%, and both Argentina and the U.K. experienced a 25% hike. In Britain, the number of femicides and filicides multiplied by five between the end of March and mid-April compared to the previous years’ average. Cyprus, Lebanon, Malaysia, Canada, Germany and Australia have not been spared, nor was China, where the number of cases has tripled since the epidemic started.
“Peace is not just the absence of war,” the UN Secretary-General António Guterres twitted. “For many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest: in their own homes.” Guterres has compared the current situation to a global conflict and thus urged “governments to put women’s safety first as they respond to the pandemic.”
Such violence spikes “every time there is a crisis” | Alyse Nelson, President of Vital Voices
In the United States—according to Forbes magazine—the National Domestic Violence Hotline has received more than 2,300 calls in which the abuse was directly linked to the coronavirus (threatening to purposefully infect the partner with Covid-19; financial intimidation if the woman loses her job; control of the use of disinfectants and soaps, etc.).
The situation in New York seems to be even more complicated: less survivors are calling the police. NYPD Commissioner is actually concerned that a drop in reports of abuse might actually mean survivors fear asking for help. Reports from the City Hall support the commissioner’s theory, as the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic Violence and Gender-Based Violence announced a 50% activity increase on their website.
“Survivors need us, now more than ever, and our top priority is to ensure continuity of services and unwavering support,” said Cecile Noel, New York City Commissioner to End Domestic Violence and Gender-Based Violence. Throughout the city, women’s shelters remain open during the stay-at-home policy.
This overall increase of domestic violence cases in a generalized context of confinement and quarantines was predictable. Such violence spikes “every time there is a crisis“, explains Vital Voices’ President Alyse Nelson. “There is also a dramatic increase of gender-based abuses when families are at home together at the end of the year and during summer holidays“, adds Rosario Perez, member of the Kering Foundation’s Board of Directors.
The Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, explained that confinement “is fostering the tension and strain created by security, health and money worries; and is increasing isolation for women with violent partners.” She described the situation as “a perfect storm for controlling, violent behavior behind closed doors.”
“Sometimes it is about men and women who usually get along well but who, because of the exceptional situation we are in, are in a real crisis having always ignored the latent signs of an underlying violence,” said Baroness Mary Goudie, a member of the House of Lords in London. Under pressure from the opposition, Britain has just released a special budget “to support NGOs working with the authorities” to help victims of domestic violence. In Washington D.C., the Covid-19 stimulus bill includes a provision of $45 million to support family violence shelters and another $2 million for the National Domestic Violence Hotline. This is ‘not enough‘ explains a group of bi-partisans senators, including New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who wants future Covid-19 legislation to include resources for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
less than 40% of victims call for help or report an act of violence
Cities and countries are now establishing emergency solutions to enable victims of gender-based violence to be able to reach and, if necessary, to be protected—France has developed an alert system in pharmacies, a special SMS number and has set aside 20,000 hotel rooms for women at risk.
Yet, experts estimate that less than 40% of victims call for help or report an act of violence.
Individuals can do their part and lend a hand to the survivors. They can remain vigilant of their own entourage, friends, relatives, and even neighbors but this is even more difficult while we are all isolated from one another. The first step is to recognize the suffering: if someone is “not picking up a call,” seems “distraught,” or expresses “a change in personality,” it “means there is a problem,” explained the President of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence Ruth Glenn in a podcast interview with Seneca Women co-founder Kim Azzarelli. “It is okay to say to someone ‘I think something is happening to you; if you need anything, I will be there for you.’” But Glenn insists on which reaction to then have. “We have a tendency as a society to say, ‘Oh my god, we want you to leave; you have to get out.’ Probably the worst advice we could give someone” in these circumstances, Glenn adds. She suggests that “we should be available to provide them a phone number or a location or a refuge or whatever it might be so that when they are ready to go, we are the person they know they can come to.”
Another way to lend a hand can be as simple as communicating everywhere Kering Foundation’s hashtag #YouAreNotAlone: on instagram, facebook, twitter, linkedin, any social network, and why not as part of an email’s signature or on an invitation for a ‘Zoom-Apero.’
Silent, invisible and abandoned survivors and their children trapped in their home will then know there is someone somewhere they can talk to and that help is there for them.
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FACEBOOK / LINKEDIN / INSTAGRAM: Coronavirus is impacting the most vulnerable in our communities, including women victims of domestic violence. Self-isolation and lockdowns make it more difficult to access resources and help.
Survivors of violence, you are not alone. @ChaynHQ has an online chatbot, a daily online support group and toolkits.
If you are in the U.S., call 1-800-799-7233 or use the online chat.
TWITTER : Survivors of violence, you are not alone during self-isolation and lockdowns. @ChaynHQ has an online chatbot, a daily online support group and toolkits. Visit chayn.co for support. #YouAreNotAlone