“Stay home” is perhaps the main slogan in the coronavirus era. But that is not true for everyone.
The confinement of families can generate little visible but real dangers, which alarm activists and officials: A possible increase in cases of domestic violence, since the victims spend the day and night trapped in their homes with their victimizers, with the tensions that are increasing, unable to escape anywhere and with limited or no access to friends. To top it off, with no idea when this is going to happen.
“An abuser is going to use everything in his power to exercise his power and control, and COVID-19 can be one of those tools,” said Crystal Justice, who oversees the development of a national hotline for violence. Domestic that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week in the United States.
It is difficult to get an idea of the magnitude of the problem, but the authorities are concerned.
On a typical day, 1,800 to 2,000 calls are received. That amount has not changed, but that does not surprise experts. Justice says that when natural disasters like an earthquake occur, people talk when the worst is over and schools and jobs reopen.
Most importantly, he said, more than 700 people who called between last Wednesday and Sunday mentioned the coronavirus as “a trigger for their experience.” Callers tell unusual stories, such as the couple preventing someone from going to work in health centers, receiving certain medical care, or access to gloves and disinfectants.
In Los Angeles, authorities confirmed they are preparing for an increase in abuse. “When people lock up, in a week or two they tire of each other and domestic violence breaks out,” said Alex Villanueva, sheriff of Los Angeles County.
“See you coming,” said Patti Giggans, executive director of the nonprofit organization Peace in Place of Violence, Los Angeles.
Before people were confined, the group began preparing therapy sessions and calling people to tell them how to keep in touch. Maybe a call to a counselor from a bathroom or on a walk if there is someone abusive in the house.
Due to the measures taken to counteract the virus, the activists “cannot appear at a police station. We cannot go to the hospital, ”said Giggans.
“One of the challenges we have with this pandemic is that the house is not a safe place for everyone,” said Amanda Pyron, executive director of The Network: Advocating Against Domestic Violence in Chicago. “Victims and offenders have to remain at the crime scene.”
The organization also has a 24-hour emergency line and says that since the confinement was established, the calls they receive have increased, from 60 to 90 daily.
Europe registers the same phenomenon. In France, the coronavirus and the confinement “are an explosive cocktail,” according to Nathalie Tomasini, a lawyer representing victims of domestic violence. Being trapped in a house with an abusive partner, she noted, is like being “in a windowless jail.”
“This is a form of war,” said Tomasini. In past wars, “men were on the front lines. Today they are at home. It is not the same type of war. “
Francoise Brie, director of the National Federation of Solidarity with Women, which manages the French emergency line, said that between 350 and 400 calls are normally received weekly and that number fell in the first week of confinement. But he added that it is too early to know if the confinement will have any impact on domestic violence.
“We expect more serious, repeated episodes in greater numbers,” said Brie.
Another organization, Mujeres a Salvo, said the calls increased. One change, said Frederique Martz, who heads the group, is that victims of domestic violence are not sent to hospitals because they are “overwhelmed” by coronavirus cases.
In Spain, another country with many infections, the justice ministry said that the courts will continue to function during the crisis and that gender-based violence is one of the areas that is receiving special attention. There has been an increase in calls for domestic violence, according to Carmen Benito, president of Women Against Abuse.
“Women are much more vulnerable now,” said Benito. “Some women call us from the bathroom and ask us what happens if they leave, where can they go and if the government services work.”
Intimate partner violence is not the only concern. There is also fear of a possible increase in child abuse now that there is no school and boys will be home longer.
“It is important that neighbors keep an eye out for the kids next door and the kids in the neighborhood in general,” said Tom Rawlings, director of the Division of Family and Children’s Services at the Minnesota Department of Human Services.
The special line for domestic violence in the United States, based in Austin, Texas, recommends that people who believe they could be in danger use chats and text messages to ask for help if necessary and plan strategies for emergencies, including a casual expression that reveal that you are in danger.
Activists like Justice say it is too early to say whether the isolation derived from the coronavirus will have any impact. “But we know that it affects survivors,” he said. “There may not be new cases of abuse, but we know that abusers take advantage of any situation that comes their way. And the running of the bulls can be a trigger ”for their anger.