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COVID19 and Domestic Violence

Learn how COVID19 global pandemic exacerbated and changed the lives of those at risk of domestic violence and abuse.
A woman in silhouette wearing a facemask

It is important to understand how COVID19 has affected domestic violence and abuse and what role healthcare professionals can play in this regard. The incidence and prevalence of violence against women tends to increase in any stressful event or emergency whether it is natural disaster, or a man-made one.

The COVID 19 pandemic has certainly caused a lot of stress, economic difficulties, disruption in social networks and to normal life. It also isolated people and affected their ability to move freely and access support which, in turn, exacerbated the risk for those experiencing violence. Available evidence and media reports suggest an increase in rate of domestic violence and abuse cases.

Early data, provided by UN women, from the UK, the United States, France, Australia, Cyprus, Singapore, Argentina, Canada, Germany, and Spain indicates an increase in domestic violence and abuse and increased demands to women’s refuges, and other support services.

In Hubei province of China, a police department reported stark increases in the domestic violence cases in February 2020. 90% of these cases were related to the covid-19 pandemic. The UK’s largest domestic abuse charity Refuge reported 700% calls in a single day under lockdown. The charity also reported a 300%+ increase in visits to its National Domestic Abuse Helpline website and a 950% rise in visits to their website compared to pre COVID19.

Another report suggests that the deaths from domestic abuse between 23 March and 12 April 2020 more than doubled (to 16 deaths) compared with the average rate in the previous 10 years.

The situation can be worse for women with additional vulnerabilities such as those with disabilities, older women, girls and women living in institutional setting, displaced women and women living in conflict affected areas. They can face further barriers in accessing appropriate support services for reasons such lack of knowledge, lack of services, lack of social networks, language barriers to name a few.

Health care systems and healthcare providers have a very important role to play in these situations and they can do this by ensuring appropriate training and education of the healthcare professionals including doctors, nurses, midwives, and other frontline practitioners.

They need to be trained to be able to assess risk in remote and face to face consultations to ensure provision of appropriate and compassionate care. They also need to be able to refer people to appropriate services in the local and regional areas.

There is a need to develop and implement appropriate referral pathways of available services including information about support services, helplines, children services, social services, psychological support and counselling services. At the same time, organisations that support people in conflict affected areas should be sensitive of the needs of women subjected to violence and its impact on their children in their COVID19 response plans.

In addition, we need to have reliable information collected about the issues so that we understand the scope of the issue to enable development of appropriate strategies to solve the issue. COVID19 will not be the last pandemic or emergency as history suggest such emergency situation arise overtime.

Learning from the situation in COVID19 should be used to prepare ourselves better to respond to the crises better but to also understand and impact of such emergencies on those experiencing domestic violence and abuse and how these impacts can be mitigated.

What do you think?

How has the experiences of women in vulnerable situations be exacerbated by the COVID19 pandemic?
© University of Sheffield
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Supporting Victims of Domestic Violence

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