As Europe grapples with the second wave of COVID-19 and many societies have returned to partial or full lockdown, incidences of domestic are once again on the increase.
During the first lockdown, national and NGO-led domestic violence helplines and authorities saw an increase in the number of calls related to domestic violence and online sexual harassment. This was due to people being forced to remain at home with abusers, or surfing the internet more.
Marija Pejcinovic Buric, the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe has spoken out on the subject, calling for member states to prevent violence after lessons learned in the first lockdown. In a statement given to Exit, she said:
“The first COVID-19 lockdowns this past spring led to many Council of Europe member states reporting record increases in domestic abuse. Although current lockdowns in most countries are less restrictive by comparison, national domestic violence hotlines again are reporting dramatic increases in distress calls.
And as people stay indoors and online longer because of renewed lockdowns, we learn of increased sexual harassment, stalking, sexting, deep fake imagery and other forms of “online violence” as a result, according to a recent UN Women study.”
She reminded states that the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combatting violence against women and domestic violence, otherwise known as the Istanbul Convention, calls for specific measures against violence. These include dedicated 24-hour hotlines, counselling services, access to shelters for victims, restraining and protection orders, and swift police intervention.
But lockdown should not mean that women and girls are at a higher risk. States need to ensure that renewed restrictions do not cause more harm to women and children. Steps should be taken to ensure that the home doesn’t become a place of fear, again she said.
Suggestions include: “Effective measures to prevent violence against women must be a key part of renewed lockdowns. Continued and safe access to support services such as shelters must be ensured as “essential”. Support services offer online services, from psychological counselling to online application forms for protection orders.”
Buric called on governments to take action on ratifying and implementing the Istanbul Convention and to take a zero-tolerance approach to violations.
Albania has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in Europe with more than 1 in 2 women experiencing a form of violence from an intimate or family partner at least once in their lives.
In April, reports of domestic violence had already tripled with the national helpline receiving 975 calls in one month, as opposed to 312 in the same month the year before.