The spread and very existence of Coronavirus have dominated the headlines and been the main topic of conversation over the last few months. The obvious health, social, and financial risks and changes that have come from it are at the forefront of people’s minds. Fewer people are however are talking about the hidden knock-on effects it’s having. Most notably, the rise in domestic violence.
Increases in reports of domestic violence and calls to helplines are being seen around the world. In China, there has been a surge in helpline calls since cities in Hubei Province were locked down in early February. France has seen domestic violence reports shoot up by 30% after they went into lockdown on 17 March. In Spain, there have been 18% more calls to their emergency number. Singapore reports 30% more calls to their helplines.
In early April, the National Domestic Abuse helpline in the UK reported a 25% increase in calls and online requests for help since the lockdown started on 23 March. Their website has a 150% increase in web visitors. By the 12 April, national UK charity Refuge reported a 700% increase in calls to its helpline in a single day. Even their helpline for abusers looking for help to change their behavior saw a rise of 25% in call numbers since the start of the Coronavirus lockdown.
In the US, law enforcement agencies have seen a 35% rise in domestic abuse cases in recent weeks. There are varying reports across the US and varying numbers with some states not seeing huge rises. This is believed to be due to the different lockdown timings in different states and how such a rise is being recorded in each area, though reports, incidents, helpline calls or 911 calls, and arrests.
CNN reported on April 4, that of the 20 large metropolitan police departments that provided data to them, nine saw a double-digit percentage increase in domestic violence cases in their 911 calls in March, compared to either the previous year or earlier months of this year. This included Pittsburgh, Charlotte, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, and Omaha. Portland, Oregon saw a 27% increase in domestic violence arrests, Boston saw a 22% increase and Seattle saw a 21% increase in domestic violence reports.
Domestic Violence Cases are Common
Before we start, it’s important to note that domestic violence cases are sadly extremely common across the world. In the US alone, it’s estimated that a case will take place every 15 seconds. Now when you consider that people are quarantined and sheltered in place, the number of these cases is only going to increase.
Domestic abuse comes in many forms, from physical violence to psychological, emotional and sexual abuse. For women and children in abusive homes, they are at heightened risk from all these forms when they have to stay inside their houses with their abusers. The lockdown adds more availability and opportunity for an abuser to control their victim; further distancing from friends and family, constant watch on every movement and rules for how they can behave.
It also needs to be remembered that men can be victims of domestic violence too. While most associate domestic abuse to be carried out by men, the cases of men being the victim of domestic violence from their current or ex-partner are also on the rise.
Increased Stress and Anxiety
There’s no denying we live in a stressful time. With problems from not being able to work, trying to get food and medical supplies, and trying to stay safe and healthy only adding to the stress that an abuser is already feeling. These are piled onto the aggressors that would have triggered a domestic violence case in the first place, plus the closer proximity in which people are living, all these factors are fuelling incidents of domestic violence.
The New York Times described the effect of COVID-19 on domestic abuse as “acting like an opportunistic infection, flourishing in the conditions created by the pandemic.”
Victims are further Isolated
Although it can differ from case to case, victims of domestic violence may still have been able to cope to a certain degree by being able to go to work and see family and friends. However, with the isolation and distancing guidelines that are being enforced, victims may be physically trapped and distanced from their previous support networks.
This is particularly the case with children. Since schools around the world have closed for the foreseeable future, what could have been a safe space for them with the support of friends, teachers, and social workers, has now been removed and children are trapped in their homes with abusers and no way of being able to get out or communicate.
The avenues for rescue for men and women in these situations are now severely limited. Support shelters are under the same pressures as other organizations struggling to offer safe places for victims to go to. The risk of infection is high. The space available is not big enough in most cases to ensure safe social distancing. Furthermore, these shelters are often full, with current domestic abuse survivors unable to move onto safe accommodation due to the situation with COVID-19. Victims trapped in their homes with their abusers cannot go and stay with friends or family or can they try and move into different and safe accommodations themselves.
Lack of Control
The arrival of this pandemic has meant widespread change across people’s daily lives. Life in lockdown is not the same as it was before. Anxiety, worry, frustrations and fear are emotions affecting all of us and few feel the levels of control over our own lives that we have before COVID-19.
Physical and emotional abuse in a domestic setting often comes from the need to control. Abusers will control a situation or person to make them feel better about themselves through the harm they are inflicting. Abusers often try to control their victims through threats, humiliation, and intimidation. Inducing fear within their victims can give an abuser a stronger sense of the control they desire. With the current restrictions in place from governments, health services, and police that are needed to protect us from Coronavirus, this creates conditions that can trigger further acts of domestic violence being carried out.
“What we’re seeing is a window into the levels of abuse that women live with all the time. Coronavirus may exacerbate triggers, though I might prefer to call them excuses, lockdown may restrict some women’s access to support or escape and it may even curtail measures some men take to keep their own violence under control. But coronavirus doesn’t make a killer out of a man who has never been controlling, abusive and/or violent to the woman he is in a relationship with. And we must surely extend our concerns to the women and children who will live through the coronavirus lockdown with an abuser and survive.”
– Karen Ingala Smith
Karen Ingala Smith is the CEO of NIA, a domestic and sexual violence charity based in London. Counting Dead Women is a project founded by Karen that records the killing of women by men in the UK. The project has found the number of women killed by men in the three week period in the UK between 23 March and 12 April 2020 is the highest it has been for 11 years. On average across this 3 week period in those 11 years, 5 women were killed. This year during the UK lockdown which started on 23 March, that figure has shot up to 14 women and two children.
These figures include the case of Kelly Fitzgibbons and her two young children in West Sussex, England. On 29 March 2020, the bodies of Robert Needham, Kelly Fitzgibbons, and their two children Ava aged 4 and Lexi aged 2, were found in their home. Kelly suffered shotgun wounds to her head and her two daughters had gunshot wounds to the head and chest. Robert Needham had shotgun injuries to his neck and head. He is believed to shot and killed his family before shooting himself, while the family were in lockdown due to COVID-19.
There Are Positive Systems Developing
With reports and cases rising and desperate calls from domestic abuse charities and organizations, governments and charities are putting systems in place to help. For example, in many countries in Europe, people who are suffering from domestic abuse can go to drug stores or pharmacies and use a codeword, such as ‘mask 19’, which lets the pharmacist know abuse is taking place, and the abuser is then arrested.
In other cities, such as Paris, the government is paying for 20,000 hotel rooms that victims of domestic abuse and physical violence can go and stay in for free while remaining safe from their abuser.
Canada is keeping its domestic violence shelters open during the pandemic and putting in $50 million to support shelters for victims. The UK, France, and Australia have dedicated funding to organizations that are trying to provide services. In the UK, calls to the emergency 999 number have a system where if the caller is unable to speak to the call operator they can press 55 which will alert them they are in danger and need help.
While it’s still early days and much more is to be done, it’s important to remember that there are developments and support to help protect victims and their families.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a scary and uncertain time for us all, and while there are many problems we will be facing over the coming months, human beings and societies, like we do, are taking steps to alleviate problems and aim to make this a better world for us all.
Contacts for information and support on domestic abuse:
- Police: 999, press 55 when prompted if you can’t speak
- Refuge UK National 24 hour helpline: 0808 2000 247
- Web: https://www.womensaid.org.uk/ – Confidential support and advice including web chat service
( Web Chat – Monday – Friday, 10am – 12pm)
- Respect Men’s Advice Line – A confidential helpline for male victims of domestic abuse and those supporting them.
Website: https://mensadviceline.org.uk/ Freephone 0808 8010 327
- National Domestic Abuse Hotline 24/7: 1 (800) 799-7233. Website: https://thehotline.org
- For further resources and helpline numbers: victimconnect.org/resources/national-hotlines
- National Resource Center on Domestic Violence – https://www.nrcdv.org/
- Helpful Information – Navigating financial help when leaving an abusive relationship
- BBC News. (April 08, 2019) Silent 999 calls: Press 55 to confirm emergency, campaign warns. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-47847735
- Brown, D. (April 03, 2020) Builder Robert Needham killed his family ‘after fearing work would dry up’. The Times.
- Helpguide. (November 02, 2018) Help For Men Who Are Being Abused. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/abuse/help-for-men-who-are-being-abused.htm
- Karen Ingala Smith (2020) Counting Dead Women. https://kareningalasmith.com/2013/09/27/click-here-for-the-counting-dead-women-petition/
- Karen Ingala Smith (April 15, 2020) Coronavirus Doesn’t Cause Men’s Violence Against Women https://kareningalasmith.com/2020/04/15/coronavirus-doesnt-cause-mens-violence-against-women/
- Kelly, J and Morgan, T. (April 06, 2020) Coronavirus: Domestic Abuse Calls Up 25% Since Lockdown, Charity Says. BBC News.
- Kottasova, I. and Di Donato, V. (April 06, 2020) Women are using code words at pharmacies to escape domestic violence during lockdown. CNN.
- Lennard, N. (April 13, 2020) Domestic Violence Is on the Rise With Coronavirus. The Intercept.
- Mohan, M. (March 31, 2020) Coronavirus: I’m in lockdown with my abuser. BBC News.
- Morris, S. (April 08, 2020) Family of Four Found Dead in West Sussex All Had Shotgun Wounds. The Guardian.
- Taub, A. (April 06, 2020) A New Covid-19 Crisis: Domestic Abuse Rises Worldwide. The New York Times.
- Tolan, C. (April 04, 2020) Some Cities See Jumps in Domestic Violence During the Pandemic. CNN.
- Townsend, M. (April 12, 2020) Revealed: Surge in Domestic Violence During Covid-19 Crisis. The Guardian.
- Williamson, H. (March 27, 2020) When Home Is More Dangerous Than the Coronavirus. Foreign Policy.
About the authors: Molly Crockett writes for Academized, where she writes about her unique lifestyle tips and offers personal development advice to her audience. Fiona Guy is a freelance criminal psychology writer and researcher and Crime Traveller’s Editor.