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Coronavirus is fuelling domestic violence

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One in three women around the world experience physical or sexual violence, mostly from an intimate partner, according to the WHO. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA

 

For some people, social distancing means being trapped indoors with an abuser. As more cities go under lockdown, activists are worried that attempts to curb coronavirus will inadvertently lead to an increase in domestic violence, writes Arwa Mahdawi in The Guardian, London

 

Home is supposed to be the safest place any of us could be right now. However, for people experiencing domestic violence, social distancing means being trapped inside with an abuser. As more cities go under lockdown, activists are worried that attempts to curb the coronavirus will inadvertently lead to an increase in domestic violence.

Domestic violence is already a deadly epidemic. One in three women around the world experience physical or sexual violence, mostly from an intimate partner, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). As the WHO notes: “This makes it the most widespread, but among the least reported human rights abuses.” Gender-based violence tends to increase during humanitarian emergencies and conflicts; “women’s bodies too often become battlefields”.

Reports from China suggest the coronavirus has already caused a significant spike in domestic violence. Local police stations saw a threefold increase in cases reported in February compared with the previous year, according to Wan Fei, the founder of an anti-domestic violence not-forprofit. “According to our statistics, 90% of the causes of violence are related to the Covid-19 epidemic,” Wan told Sixth Tone, an English-language magazine based in China.

A similar story is playing out in America. A domestic violence hotline in Portland, Oregon, says calls doubled last week. And the national domestic violence hotline is hearing from a growing number of callers whose abusers are using Covid-19 to further control and isolate them. “Perpetrators are threatening to throw their victims out on the street so they get sick,” the hotline’s CEO told Time. “We’ve heard of some withholding financial resources or medical assistance.”

With all attention focused on curbing a public health crisis, the problem of private violence risks being overlooked or deprioritized by authorities. In the UK, for example, schools are now closed to everyone except for the children of key workers performing essential services. Domestic violence professionals have been left off this list; apparently preventing abuse at home isn’t an essential service. Dawn Butler, Labour’s women, and equalities spokeswoman has asked the prime minister to “urgently reconsider” this classification and consider implementing emergency funding to help people in danger escape domestic abuse during the crisis. “[T]wo women are killed every week by a partner or former partner,” Butler tweeted. “If the Govt fails to prepare and plan more people will die.”

Now more than ever we need to look out for the most vulnerable in our society; activists are calling on neighbors to be extra aware and vigilant of possible cases of domestic violence. Retreating into our homes doesn’t mean cutting ourselves off from our communities. We’re all in this together.

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