Domestic Violence Reports Surge as Countries Go on Lockdown to Stop Spread of Coronavirus

Movement limits imposed by countries around the world have forced people to spend much more time at home, leading to a surge in domestic abuse cases. Credit…Federico Rios for The New York Times

Add another public health crisis to the toll of the new coronavirus: Mounting data suggests that domestic abuse is acting like an opportunistic infection, flourishing in the conditions created by the pandemic.

There was every reason to believe that the restrictions imposed to keep the virus from spreading would have such an effect, said Marianne Hester, a Bristol University sociologist who studies abusive relationships. Domestic violence goes up whenever families spend more time together, such as the Christmas and summer vacations, she said.

Now, with families in lockdown worldwide, hotlines are lighting up with abuse reports, leaving governments trying to address a crisis that experts say they should have seen coming.

The United Nations called on Sunday for urgent action to combat the worldwide surge in domestic violence. “I urge all governments to put women’s safety first as they respond to the pandemic,” Secretary General António Guterres wrote on Twitter.

But governments largely failed to prepare for the way the new public health measures would create opportunities for abusers to terrorize their victims. Now, many are scrambling to offer services to those at risk.

But, as with the response to the virus itself, the delays mean that irreparable harm may already have occurred.

As cities and towns across China locked down, a 26-year-old woman named Lele found herself entangled in more and more arguments with her husband, with whom she now had to spend every hour in their home in Anhui Province, in eastern China.

On March 1, while Lele was holding her 11-month-old daughter, her husband began to beat her with a high chair. She is not sure how many times he hit her. Eventually, she says, one of her legs lost feeling and she fell to the ground, still holding the baby in her arms.

A photograph she took after the incident shows the high chair lying on the floor in pieces, two of its metal legs snapped off — evidence of the force with which her husband wielded it against her. Another image documents Lele’s injuries: Nearly every inch of her lower legs was covered in bruises, a huge hematoma blooming on her left calf.

Lele — her full name is not being used for her safety — said that her husband had abused her throughout their six-year relationship, but that the Covid-19 outbreak made things far worse.

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SOURCE: The New York Times, Amanda Taub

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