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31 Mar, 2020 16:13

The Covid-19 lockdown is a death sentence for many women. Not from the virus, but from being stuck indoors with a violent partner

The Covid-19 lockdown is a death sentence for many women. Not from the virus, but from being stuck indoors with a violent partner

After just over a week of the official order for UK families to stay indoors, nine people have been killed at home in Britain. Sadly, the death toll will not end there.

The day-to-day business of life as we knew it has ground to a halt from Bangalore to Los Angeles and from London to Lagos. But just because we’ve stopped, domestic abuse hasn’t. It’s flourishing.

A spate of domestic incidents has left nine people dead across Britain so far. The latest involved a family of four – a builder, his partner and their two daughters aged five and three – discovered at their home in Sussex; a suspected murder-suicide.

Two other cases have involved women being killed and their husbands later being charged with their murders.

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Campaigners, like Rachel Williams, the UK-based author of The Devil At Home, and a domestic abuse victim who was shot by her husband and lost her son to suicide, fear that it’s only the beginning.

The lockdown is hard for everyone, but if you’re a victim of abuse, it's hell. You get no downtime,” Williams told RT.com “You’re imprisoned with your captor 24/7, with no respite, when they could be in work, the pub or somewhere else.

What's even worse, is that children will be at home from school in less-than-ideal circumstances. Often, they won’t get fed, and will experience things they should not be experiencing. But victims and perpetrators need to know that the police will come and they will force the door down regardless. They will do it.”

An estimated 1.6 million women and 786,000 men experienced domestic abuse in England and Wales in the year ending March 2019. Many expect that number to soar because of this lockdown.

The minister in charge of the police, Home Secretary Priti Patel, wrote a column in the Mail on Sunday newspaper, setting out her determination to crack down on abusers and help victims: “My message to every potential victim is simple: we have not forgotten you and we will not let you down. And my message to every perpetrator is equally as simple: you will not get away with your crimes.

The only problem is that, due to government austerity measures, there’s a chronic shortage of hostels where women can shelter, with local authority spending cut from £31.2m in 2010 to £23.9m in 2017, forcing several refuges to close their doors in recent years and turn people away.

Refuge, a UK charity that runs a 24-hour domestic-abuse hotline, has posted a checklist on its website entitled Coronavirus: Safety tips for survivors.’

The charity was among many enraged last week after an English boxer, world champion Billy Joe Saunders, released a video advising men how to hit their female partners. In the video, Saunders uses a punch bag to explain how to react if "your old woman is giving you mouth" and showing how to "hit her on the chin" and then “finish her off.”

He later apologised, saying he would “never condone domestic violence,” shortly before the British Boxing Board of Control took away his licence to fight. The chief executive of Refuge, Sandra Horley, said the video was “as dangerous as it is shocking.

A worldwide problem

Rising levels of domestic abuse are not confined to the UK, of course. Around the world, 137 women die each day at the hands of a family member – roughly one third by their partner or ex-husband – more than 50,000 a year.

In China, where Covid-19 began late last year, there’s been a threefold increase in cases of domestic abuse reported in February 2020, compared to February 2019.

The founder of an anti-domestic violence group in Jingzhou, central Hubei province, Wan Fei, told Sixth Tone, a Chinese publication, that reports of domestic violence had shot up at his local police station.

He said the police station in Jianli County had received 162 reports of domestic violence in February - three times more than the 47 it handled in February 2019. “The epidemic has had a huge impact on domestic violence. According to our statistics, 90 percent of the causes of violence are related to the Covid-19 epidemic,” he said.

In India, which is on lockdown for three weeks, statistics show that a woman is raped there every 15 minutes, and the country is deemed to be the most dangerous in the world in which to be a woman, according to the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Delhi, home to 19.9 million people, has the dubious title of being the rape capital of the world.

In Ireland, the number of calls to the children's charity Childline has increased by nine percent, visits to its website have increased by 26 per cent since school closures, and use of its text support service have gone up by almost 20 per cent. A spokeswoman said young people wanted to discuss coronavirus, family relationships, anxiety and worry.

The number-one question people always ask in situations of domestic violence is “why don't you just leave?” That’s hard enough in normal life, but, when people are on lockdown, especially in countries with poor human rights records, it's virtually impossible.

But victims of violence, most of whom are women, have been told they are not alone and that 24-hour helplines exist. In France, where a thirty percent increase in cases has been reported, women have been urged to call the 3919 hotline, under the banner of “It is not forbidden to flee.

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The crisis that we are going through and the quarantine could unfortunately create a fertile ground for domestic violence,” France’s Secretary of State in charge of Gender Equality Marlène Schiappa said, adding that “the situation of emergency shelters for female victims of domestic violence is a major concern.

Victims need more than hotlines. They need somewhere to go. They need new forms of communication, they need friends. "Why not just open the hotel rooms for people in need? Why not give them phones? If you think your friend or neighbour is being abused, now might be the time they want help," Rachel Williams suggests.

We’ve all become very insular, and fearful of people, keeping two meters distance, trying not to look up when we’re shopping, or crossing the road when someone comes towards us. But that shouldn't stop us from asking - “Are you ok?” We have the social media means to do it.

Governments across the world have resorted to draconian, authoritarian measures to save lives- it’s a shame that, in doing so, others will be lost due to domestic violence.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.