As countries continue to enact shelter-in-place safety initiatives amid the pandemic, a surge in domestic violence cases globally illustrates that for many women and girls, home is the least safe place they can be.
Following a plea on Sunday from United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres for governments to “make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of their national response plan to COVID-19,” The New York Times reports on emergency hotlines and shelters across the world that have seen a significant uptick in calls and reports. An emergency line in Spain received 18 percent more calls in a two-week period during lockdown than the month prior, while French police reported a nationwide spike of 30 percent more domestic violence reports.
The U.N. reports that since the pandemic, calls to helplines in Lebanon and Malaysia have doubled, in China they’ve tripled, Kosovo’s Ministry of Justice cites a 17 percent increase in domestic violence cases, and Australian search results for domestic violence help are at an all-time high compared to the past five years.
America has also seen an uptick in domestic violence in several cities, but the data is not uniform given how departments report, nor is it comprehensive by any means. CNN reports that data given by 20 large metropolitan police departments, which included domestic violence-related calls for some but confirmed cases and arrests for others, saw “double-digit percentage jumps in domestic violence cases or 911 calls in March” compared to earlier months or the previous year. Cities that saw an increase in domestic violence and battery arrests or reports include Portland, Boston, and Seattle, while police in Pittsburgh, Charlotte, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, and Omaha report a double-digit increase in calls comparing March to earlier months or the previous year.
Domestic violence shelters have also seen an increase in calls, with one Seattle hotline, New Beginnings, reporting a drop in call volume during the day but an increase in calls at night, when women are more likelier to find time to talk away from their partners or children. “Abuse thrives in silence and isolation and when people aren’t connected to hearing other voices, it can give an abuser a lot more control,” Kelly Starr, Managing Director for Public Affairs of the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, previously told Jezebel.
Gun and ammunition sales have also spiked across the country, which will likely only increase incidents of domestic homicide in homes given the connection between domestic violence and gun ownership. A 2019 study found that a higher rate of gun ownership is associated with a higher rate in domestic homicide, but the firearms industry was specifically singled out as an essential industry along with food production and emergency services by the Trump administration in the pandemic.
In a house where domestic abuse was already present, the physical constraints and the mental toll of sheltering in place can exacerbate the abuse. In Colorado a woman says she killed her husband in self-defense after he brandished a knife at her and said “he was not going to live through” coronavirus. In Pennsylvania a man distraught after losing his job shot his girlfriend nonfatally, saying beforehand: “I already talked to God and I have to do this.”