[Coronavirus] Coronavirus exposes increase in violence targeting women

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Coronavirus lockdowns have triggered a spike in domestic, sexual and gender-based violence across Europe. However, experts stressed that the end of lockdowns will bring additional challenges, such as economic uncertainty or job losses, which can lead to more abuse.

EUobserver

Social isolation under the current crisis not only increases the risk of domestic abuse, but also hinders access to assistance and protection services.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, EU countries have asked citizens to stay at home, which implies the confinement of the victim with the abuser.

As a result, law enforcement, civil society and women shelters have reported a surge in domestic, sexual and gender-based violence since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.

Two women have been killed by their partners since Spain's strict lockdown came into force on 14 March, with one new death still being investigated.

Spanish helplines have registered a 47 percent increase in calls in the first two weeks of April, while in France reports of physical and sexual violence increased by more than 30 percent since the beginning of the outbreak.

The French minister for equality, Marlène Schiappa, also reported an increase in cyber-bullying against women, often with sexual suggestions.

Additionally, Cyprus and Poland have also registered a notable increase in domestic violence reports.

"The current spike in domestic abuses underlines that the EU and its member states need to act to protect women during this crisis, and bolster their measures in the future to end violence against women," said the director of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, Michael O'Flaherty, on Wednesday (29 April).

Portugal, for instance, has experienced a decrease in the reports of domestic violence by 26 percent in comparison to the same period in 2019.

However, social services and NGOs suggest that these figures indicate that women are encountering more difficulties in calling for help.

To tackle this problem, some member states have implemented other forms of emergency contact, including messaging services via WhatsApp or specialised apps.

In Spain, the number of women contacting support services by email or on social media was reported to have increased by 700 percent.

At the beginning of the lockdown, Italian helplines registered only half the number of incidents being recorded during the same period last year.

However, they recorded a slightly inverse trend by the end of March, what could be a result of the awareness campaigns on domestic violence launched by the government.

Meanwhile, public authorities and civil society organisations in some member states, such as Romania, have not published data about gender-violence during the pandemic isolation.

According to the director of the European Institute for Gender Equality, Carlien Scheele, "chronic underreporting of violence at the hands of a partner means we only know a partial truth."

"Governments need to make clear that violence is not a private matter and ensure the police, justice and health sectors are able to work together to help victims," she added.

Long-term consequences?

Member states announced specific measures to tackle the increased risk of domestic violence, including having 24-hour phone helplines, increasing funding, using pharmacies as outreach facilities, providing refuge for victims in hotel rooms or having police check on households with previous cases of domestic violence.

However, experts stressed that the end of lockdowns will bring additional challenges for women who are victims of an abusive relationship.

Financial uncertainty linked to income and job losses, psychological stress and the generalised feeling of loss of control are among the causes of increased domestic violence.

An EU-wide survey indicates that 30 percent of women who find it difficult to economically survive have experienced partner violence.

Additionally, the Covid-19 health crisis also has other effects in the long run, such as not talking to anyone about the violence suffered, unwanted pregnancies and facing difficulties accessing the voluntary termination of pregnancy services.

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