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UN sees increase in global domestic violence due to effects of coronavirus

While they might not be emergency room patients, women and children in abusive homes are falling victim to a side effect of the infectious spread of COVID-19.
Leonardo Briceno Virginia, US

While they might not be emergency room patients, it’s becoming tragically apparent that women and children in abusive homes are falling victim to a side effect of the infectious spread of COVID-19. As nation-wide orders to stay home grow increasingly prevalent, domestic abuse victims find themselves facing uncertainty outdoors, fear of harm at home, and a shrinking number of places to turn to in between.

Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, addressed the escalating issue on Monday.

“For many women and children the threat looms largest where they should be safest: in their own homes,” Guterres told audiences through UN news outlets. “We have seen a horrifying global surge in domestic violence.”

Guterres asserted that in some countries, the number of women calling for support services had doubled, noting that calls to hotlines have skyrocketed in the past few weeks. He’s not exaggerating.

Results from Google’s searches in Australia, for instance, mirrors Guterres’ assessment. According to the Australian Broadcasting Company, Google is seeing something like a 75 percent spike in online inquiries related to domestic violence.

In Kosovo, reporting from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) notes that the Ministry of Justice has seen a 17 percent increase in cases relating to gender-based violence.

And ABC News noted that in Paris’ police prefecture reported as much as a 36 percent increase in domestic violence cases. The interior minister of France is now urging women experiencing some version of domestic abuse to use the code word “mask 19” to communicate a need for help. Marlène Schiappa, France’s Gender Equality Minister, is calling for a government-provided stay in hotel to offer immediate relief to victims in openly hostile domestic situations.

While tragic, an increase in violence at home shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with patterns of domestic abuse. Marianne Hester, an abusive relationship sociologist at Bristol University, told The New York Times that seasons that tend to bring families closer together are often paralleled by an increased activity of domestic violence. Christmas and summer vacations for instance, says Hester, are prime examples.

This isn’t the first time the spread of a virus has posed a threat to victims in the home. The UNFPA’s Technical Brief on COVID-19 notes that the Ebola crisis of 2014 saw an increase in domestic violence in countries affected by the outbreak. They predict a similar crisis for COVID-19, on a much wider scale.

“For the nearly 48 million women and girls, including 4 million pregnant women, identified by UNFPA as in need of humanitarian assistance and protection in 2020, the dangers that COVID-19 outbreaks pose will be magnified,” the Technical Brief stated.

In his address to world leaders, Guterres acknowledged that resources would be tight in the ongoing fight against the spread of coronavirus. Nevertheless, Guterres asserted, the fight against domestic violence is something governments cannot afford to forget.

“Healthcare providers and police are overwhelmed and understaffed. I urge all governments to make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of their national response plans for COVID-19,” Guterres said.

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