Wednesday, May 20, 2020
Caroline Bettinger-Lopez & Alexandra Bro A Double Pandemic: Domestic Violence in the Age of COVID-19, Council on Foreign Relations
How have lockdowns influenced rates of domestic violence?
Data from many regions already suggests significant increases in domestic violence cases, particularly among marginalized populations. Take for example the Middle East and North Africa, which have the world’s fewest laws protecting women from domestic violence. An analysis by UN Women [PDF] of the gendered impacts of COVID-19 in the Palestinian territories found an increase in gender-based violence, and warned that the pandemic [PDF] will likely disproportionately affect women, exacerbate preexisting gendered risks and vulnerabilities, and widen inequalities. In Latin American countries such as Mexico and Brazil, a spike in calls to hotlines in the past two months suggests an increase in domestic abuse. Meanwhile, a drop in formal complaints in countries such as Chile and Bolivia is likely due to movement restrictions and the inability or hesitance of women to seek help or report through official channels, according to the United Nations and local prosecutors.In China, police officers in the city of Jingzhou received three times as many domestic violence calls this past February as in the same time in 2019. Some high- and middle-income countries, such as Australia, France, Germany, South Africa, and the United States, have also reported significant increases in reports of domestic violence since the COVID-19 outbreak.
What can countries do to protect those at risk of domestic violence amid the pandemic?
As the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations have emphasized, countries must incorporate a gender perspective in their responses to the COVID-19 crisis. Several countries and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have already taken innovative steps in this direction. New campaigns also use social media to spread awareness of resources available to survivors, including hotlines, text message–based reporting, and mobile applications.
Social distancing has increased people’s reliance on technology and changed the way mental health, legal, and other social services are provided to survivors unable to leave their homes. With disruptions to the criminal justice system, countries have shifted to virtual court hearings, facilitated online methods for obtaining protection orders, and communicated their intentions to continue to provide legal protection to survivors.
Moving forward, it is critical that states support the development of alternative reporting mechanisms; expand shelter options; strengthen the capacity of the security and justice sectors; maintain vital sexual and reproductive health services, where domestic and sexual violence victims are often identified and supported; support independent women’s groups; finance economic security measures for women workers, especially those serving on the front lines of the pandemic or in the informal economy, and other groups disproportionately affected by the pandemic, such as migrant, refugee, homeless, and trans women; and collect comprehensive data on the gendered impact of COVID-19.