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Policy:

Domestic violence around the world has exploded with the advent of the coronavirus.   Countries across the continents show increases in the rates of abuse attributed to the shelter in place mandates.   Increases in stressors such as financial recession, unemployment, natural disasters, and  the cancellation of major sports events are known to cause surges in domestic violence.  .  Women have been barred from the home if they seem to have any symptoms of illness and reports have been made of one partner (not always the man) hiding cleaning materials from their partners.  Children are also at risk, as the stress of caring for them 24 hours a day is added to other circumstances of sheltering at home mandates.  In comparisons to the same time frames from the previous year, Wuhan, China reports three times the rate of domestic violence; South African officials report 90 thousand calls in the first week of sheltering in place; Paris police report a 36% increase in police intervention for domestic violence incidents; and US cities have report increases in incidences ranging from 6%-35%. Australian authorities report a 75% increase in internet searches for help for domestic violence.

Countering this trend are reports suggesting that calls for shelter are going down since the virus led to shelter at home and social distancing mandates.  This is widely thought to be attributed to the fear that victims of domestic abuse have of calling  for help or the actual blocking of such attempts by the abusers.  The history of escalating violence in stressful situation is substantial and shelters and law enforcement believe that any drops are not indicative of fewer cases of violence but of more fear in asking for help or the inability to safely leave the situation.

Some countries have promoted the use of a code word “mask 19,” that victims can utilize in supermarkets to indicate they are in jeopardy.  Some grocery stores have set up crisis counselors to help.  Shelters can help by offering social distancing accommodations and, where necessary, quarantine quarters but that will not be enough to support all those in need.

Analysis:

In the US it is estimated that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men will suffer domestic violence in their life time. Women are the primary users of shelters but not the exclusive victims of violence.  Even in normal conditions, some areas have difficulties facilitating shelter for all the victims in need; it can only be worse now.  Some countries are taking more extreme measures. In Paris the government has provided 20,000 hotel rooms for people fleeing violence at home.  The mayor of Los Angeles has made funds available for hotel rooms for those needing such aid.  In the US, Rihanna and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey have contributed 4.2 million dollars for food, hotel rooms, and counseling for victims of domestic violence.  Victims of domestic violence are under immediate threat and can suffer long terms injury, or death, at the hands of a perpetrator.  With soaring incidences, it  seems logical to ask where are the national policies, programs, and funds to address this urgent problem?

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Photo by Sydney Sims

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