For many women around the world there are graver dangers than the virus.
Since the emergence of COVID-19 the number of domestic violence cases has increased around the world. Countries as far from each other as Spain, Lebanon or Singapore report increased numbers of calls received by domestic violence hotlines. It seems like more women are facing dangers than ever before.
Domestic violence is not a new phenomenon, but strict lockdown measurements have brought them into spotlight with new force - British press has even taken to calling the occurrences Coronavirus Murders, highlighting the role of the virus in the behaviour of abusers.
But is it the right way to report on domestic violence? For some, the new, shiny nickname coined by British tabloids is a dangerous one - These authors from the Conversation reason that the buzz-inducing headlines blur the truth: the virus does not create new abusers, it just enables existing ones to be more violent and do so more frequently.
“It is critical to put this in context: more men are not becoming abusive or violent – women who are already suffering abuse are being attacked by their partners more often. As experts in this area we urge the media to make this important distinction.”
The same tendency was once observed in the survey, linking domestic violence with football. The matches were not a problem per se, but they served as a pretence for abusers to unleash their fury on their intimate partners.
See more: A Trap for Women
Similarly, the virus creates favorable circumstances for continued abuse. The orders to shelter in place cut women off friends, work and necessary assistance.They are left at the mercy of abusers, who use COVID-19 as a tool for dependence and isolation:
“Perpetrators are threatening to throw their victims out on the street so they get sick.” Katie Ray-Jones, CEO of the US National Domestic Violence Hotline tells Time Magazine, “We’ve heard of some withholding financial resources or medical assistance.”
With the freedom of movement limited, many brave women are turning to social media, posting bruised, bloody but still defiant pictures with captions reading:
“This is domestic violence. Seek help, I'm home from the hospital, don't be the next victim.”
Others are taking drastic steps and dare to escape. UNDP Albania quotes a survivor who left her husband and is seeking shelter with her two children:
“I cannot go back to my house, as my husband has become more violent than usual. Not a day passed without him beating me and the kids. So, I left.”
But cases of domestic violence are severely under-reported. It is believed that only 40% of affected women come forward to authorities and even they often struggle to find long-term relief. The problem here lies in the lack of sustainable solutions.
The response to alarming (but well-known) statistics has once more been loud but rather insufficient. The UN, for example, was quick to offer on paper solutions and urged all governments to make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of their national response plans for COVID-19. Although suggested measurements are vague at best. It is doubtful that developing countries will find resources to implement them any time soon.
Some celebrities have been more generous and on point with financial support: Rihanna privately donated US$2.1 million to the Mayor's Fund for Los Angeles to assist victims of domestic violence affected by the lockdowns.
Common people showed their support as well: Citizens in Argentina used their balconies to bang pots and hang green and purple handkerchiefs to represent abortion rights and “Ni Una Menos” to express outrage over machismo violence and in support of the potential and known victims.
We need a new approach
But the spotlight given by the coronavirus lockdowns will fade in due time and news on domestic violence (a.k.a. Coronavirus Murders) will once again be overshadowed by better, catchier headlines. The mass coverage showcases yet again that as much as we claim to stand with current or potential victims we are repeatedly failing to help them out of their dangerous situations. To repeat the argument stated above, it is not the virus that turns us violent, the core of the problem is much more nuanced and will outlive the lockdown. Its results so far have proven to be deadly.