Since the onset of the pandemic, the incidence of domestic violence has skyrocketed all over the world.
Ever since the start of the pandemic and the introduction of the first restrictions on movement in the spring of 2020, signals were given that the incidence of domestic violence skyrocketed all over the world. The EU member states, including Romania, were no exception, and women had to cope with even greater difficulties than usual in certain respects, says Andreea Rusu, an executive director of the FILIA Center, an association devoted to the protection of women's rights.
Andreea Rusu: “In Romania, in the first nine months of the year, there were more than 20,000 cases of hitting or other domestic violence. Also, the number of calls to the 112 emergency number was 18% higher than in the same period of 2019. At the same time, during the state of emergency calls doubled to the free number provided by the National Agency for Equal Opportunities between Women and Men, where women can obtain information about the services they can use in case of violence. Women also faced other obstacles. For instance, in order to apply for a restraining order from home, they needed internet access, a computer and a printer. But everybody knows that in Romania there is no internet access in rural areas, especially in the disadvantaged areas. Many women simply don’t have the necessary technological means at home to do that.”
During the state of emergency instated from March to May 2020, when freedom of movement was severely restricted, many women were practically trapped in their homes with the aggressors. They could not leave the house and did not have anyone else to turn to for help. Also, besides the fact that the application for a restraining order had to be filed online, some courts were closed or had the number of their staff reduced. In most cases, the abused women were left with the impression that, at that time, the main priority was public health, and the safety and integrity of the abused had become irrelevant to the authorities. This is, in any case, the conclusion reached by non-governmental organizations.
Andreea Rusu: “Many women had to return home to their aggressors or were trapped in the same house either because they were afraid to leave, as they were fearing the virus or simply because they could not talk to anyone else because of the aggressor. In other countries, ways could be found for the victims of domestic violence to alert the police or the social assistance directorates, such as dialing dedicated numbers on WhatsApp or going to a pharmacy where they had to say a specific code. When you are with an aggressor in the house, it is very difficult to contact NGOs or social assistance offices to ask for help. A victim may not always call 112 and victims’ calls are not always considered an emergency.”
Under these circumstances, the victims did get some help though, also by means of the digital technology. You may wonder how the civic or non-governmental associations that usually helped these women could intervene?
Andreea Rusu has the answer: “In most cases, the discussions moved to the online environment with the victims who afforded or had Internet access. That is why the access rate to the special sites of other associations has increased. Several online campaigns have also been launched to help the victims during this pandemic crisis. But, unfortunately, women living in disadvantaged areas who do not have information about any NGOs were alone, and their options were few, if any.”
Although the entire EU has been affected by an increased number of complaints about domestic violence, member states have reacted somehow differently when intervening against abuses. The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) - an EU agency based in Vilnius - has conducted a study on the impact of COVID 19 on victims of domestic violence. Veronica Collins, an EIGE representative next tells us more on the main information recorded shortly after the introduction of quarantine in many EU countries.
Veronica Collins: “In France, we saw, in just one week, a 32% jump in domestic violence reports. In Lithuania, we saw a 20% jump in domestic violence reports over a three-week period, compared to the same period in 2019. These are the two initial figures that we have. One comes from the Lithuanian police, the reports in Lithuania, and the French reports come from the media. But solid, administrative official figures are still quite hard to come by. And our study was focused on the action taken by member states to protect women from violence, and to ensure access to support services, social shelters and hot lines. And in some countries also there was initially a decline in calls, presumably due to the fact that perpetrators who were always around in the lockdown situations and victims were unable to make phone calls.”
The EIGE study also shows the reasons why, in crisis situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of cases of domestic violence rises.
Veronica Collins: “The reasons behind the increase in violence against women are manifold. We can include increased economic insecurity. This can cause tension in the home, tension in the family. If the victim is not financially independent, which can happen quite frequently it becomes even more difficult to leave the abusive situation. Economic uncertainty, general anxiety and stress could also increase alcohol consumption which can also cause violence. Broken down infrastructure, limited infrastructure, limited access to infrastructure can also prevent the victims from leaving and seeking the support that they need. Restrictions during a crisis can also make it difficult to access informed support network, such as friends and family.”
Although some member states have taken measures to protect the victims of domestic violence during this period, the EIGE study shows that there is insufficient circumstantial intervention, and that an integrated strategy is needed that can be applied in any type of crisis. (tr. L. Simion)