By Antara Chatterjee
Bad news: The incidence of domestic violence is increasing globally due to the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Good news: Amazing efforts are being made worldwide to support victims of domestic violence.
Under the pressure of COVID-19, the shortcomings of our society’s current support systems have been exposed. One group that has been slipping through the cracks are the victims of domestic violence. In any given night, 300 women and children are turned away from women’s shelters in Canada due to a lack of resources . The outbreak is expected to make it worse.
Current lockdown measures cause restrictions on movement and economic instability, forcing victims of domestic violence to live with their abusive partners in confined spaces, and preventing them from accessing much needed services. According to Statistics Canada, 1 in 10 Canadian women are “very or extremely” worried about violence at home during the lockdown . Cities all over Canada are experiencing a spike in domestic violence calls: York Regional Police saw an increase in domestic violence calls by 22%, Durham Regional Police saw a 14% increase, and various shelters across Canada are seeing a 200%-400% increase in demand of their services [1,3]. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, at least three cases of gender-based homicide are suspected in Canada and officials are fearful that number might rise . Countries worldwide are seeing similar increases in domestic violence calls .
The bottom-line is that COVID-19 has made staying at home very unsafe for victims of domestic violence while also leaving them with little to no options to flee their homes. Recently, a woman in China who filed for divorce from her physically abusive husband was told that her proceeding was postponed for a few months. She would have to live with her abuser in the meantime . But here is the silver-lining: officials worldwide are finally addressing the problem of domestic and gender-based violence.
UN’s Secretary General António Guterres tweets, “I urge all governments to put women’s safety first as they respond to the pandemic” .
On Sunday April 5, 2020, the United Nations called for action to fight the worldwide spike in domestic violence. Following the announcement, the United Nations Development Programme published a briefing note highlighting the economic impacts of COVID-19 and gender inequality, along with recommendations for policymakers worldwide on how to tackle domestic violence . In Canada, the Parliament has just approved a financial aid package of $200 million to help shelters across the country, including approximately $30 million dedicated for Women’s Shelters Canada and Canadian Women’s Foundation, and a $2.7 million emergency payment for victims of domestic violence . This emergency payment will support the Victim Quick Response Program Plus (VGRP+) which provides extended hotel stays as well as transportation and meal vouchers for victims . Just south of the border, a statement from the Home Office of America recommended that victims of violence can disregard orders to stay home if they need immediate help .
On the ground, various shelters, advocacy groups, and organizations are also stepping up. In Vancouver, Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS) were paying close attention to domestic violence incidents in other countries during the outbreak, and have been preparing for a similar fate in Canada. They pre-emptively trained staff on 24/7 helplines, encouraged landlords and strata councils to post resources for crisis lines, and also secured a hotel floor for women escaping violence . When the pandemic hit Canada, they launched an online awareness campaign specifically tailored to victims dealing with COVID-19 while quarantined with abusive partners . Various other organizations are working alongside the Law Society of Ontario and Ontario Bar Association to prepare lawyers unfamiliar with family law with resources to identify urgent domestic violence cases .
“How can we make this time that we are spending at home useful for the crisis? How do we have an impact?” – Alfonso Martinez, Co-Organizer, MIT COVID-19 Challenge: Beat the Pandemic .
To address the above questions, MIT hosted the first of its COVID-19 hackathon series . Among the ideas that emerged was Distance Domestic Violence, a web-based platform that helps to identify when domestic violence is taking place and direct individuals who are at risk to local community-based services in order to navigate the situation as safely as possible . Aarani Paramalingam, a Health Policy Analyst based in Toronto, spearheaded this initiative and is currently working with women representing diverse backgrounds to implement the project for the current pandemic and future global crises .
These initiatives are evidence that increased awareness regarding the urgency of domestic violence and drive to implement change is taking place. Thousands of women slipped through the cracks and stakeholders are finally uniting their resources to respond to domestic violence. From the United Nations to your neighbor, more organizations and women-led groups are making a difference.
If you would like to contribute, please consider donating to the COVID-19 Women’s Initiative Fundraiser.
- Faiza Amin. Domestic violence calls surge during coronavirus pandemic. CityNews. [Internet] 2020 April 8. Available from https://toronto.citynews.ca/2020/04/08/domestic-violence-calls-surge-during-coronavirus-pandemic/
- Anya Zoledziowski. Coronavirus is making domestic violence more severe, crisis workers say. Vice. [Internet]. 2020 April 13. Available from https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/akwmnj/coronavirus-is-making-domestic-violence-more-severe-crisis-workers-say
- Alissa Thibault. When home isn’t safe: Domestic violence spikes during COVID-19 pandemic. CTV News. [Internet]. 2020 April 17. Available from https://bc.ctvnews.ca/when-home-isn-t-safe-domestic-violence-spikes-during-covid-19-pandemic-1.4901752
- Amanda Taub. A new COVID-19 crisis: Domestic abuse rises worldwide. The New York Times. [Internet]. 2020 April 6. Available from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/06/world/coronavirus-domestic-violence.html
- United Nation Development Programme. The economic impacts of COVID-19 and gender inequality: Recommendations for policymaking. 2020 April 6. [Internet] Available from https://www.latinamerica.undp.org/content/rblac/en/home/library/womens_empowerment/los-impactos-economicos-del-covid-19-y-las-desigualdades-de-gene.html).
- Ministry of the Attorney General. Ontario strengthening victim services in response to COVID-19. [Internet]. 2020 April 2. Available from https://news.ontario.ca/mag/en/2020/04/ontario-strengthening-victims-services-in-response-to-covid-19.html
- Battered Women’s Support Services. 2020 March 24. Available from https://www.bwss.org/spreading-the-word-not-covid-19/
- Jim Rankin. GTA domestic violence groups brace for ‘perfect storm’ as abused women stay home amid COVID-19. The Star. [Internet]. 2020 March 24. Available from https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2020/03/24/gta-domestic-violence-groups-brace-for-perfect-storm-as-abused-women-stay-home-amid-covid-19.html
- Laura Lovett. New COVID-19 challenge out of MIT seeks solutions from hackers at home. Mobi Health News. [Internet]. 2020 April 6. Available from https://www.mobihealthnews.com/news/new-covid-19-challenge-out-mit-seeks-solutions-hackers-home
- Aarani Paramalingam. Distance Domestic Violence. 2020 Apr. Available from https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6652678042021965824/