This week, France’s Secretary of State for Equality Between Women and Men, Marlène Schiappa, announced a plan to address the increased risk of domestic violence during the COVID-19 crisis. Schiappa pledged to provide 20,000 hotel bookings for victims of domestic violence, send 1 million euros to organizations specializing in domestic violence relief, and establish assistance points that victims can access at supermarkets and pharmacies.
France’s nationwide lockdown began March 17 and is scheduled to last until April 15, at least. Since restrictions came into force, reports of domestic violence to police increased by 36% in Paris and by 32% throughout France. These incidents include the deaths of two women. Schiappa’s measures aim to reduce instances of domestic violence by providing refuge from abusers and maintaining channels of communication so that victims can receive assistance from authorities.
The heightened risk of domestic violence is not exclusive to France. For people who are already in an abusive situation, the COVID-19 pandemic is amplifying stress levels of perpetrators and preventing victims from accessing help, globally.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline in the US has warned that increased financial hardship and general stress over lack of control may intensify instances of domestic violence. The hotline has received reports of abusers preventing victims from going to their essential jobs, and even threatening to use firearms for the first time.
Likewise, it is nearly impossible for victims to seek temporary refuge while COVID-19 restrictions are in place. Most can no longer escape to go to work at non-essential jobs. They may avoid going to their families for fear of infecting their more vulnerable loved ones. Also, women’s shelters may face overcrowding, and even close down, if the risk of infection becomes too high.
Furthermore, leaving an abusive relationship is made even more difficult by the economic situation. The process of leaving an abusive partner usually involves secretly saving money, which will become increasingly challenging as the unemployment rate rises. In fact, Anita Bhatia, a leader in UN Women, called on governments to prioritize packages for paid sick leave and unpaid care work with the intention of helping victims of domestic violence maintain financial independence from their abusers.
Sources: NPR, 3/31/20; Aljazeera 3/31/20; Time, 3/31/20; New York Post, 4/2/20; Time, 3/18/20