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New report shows a spike in domestic abuse cases in the UK due to coronavirus lockdown

By Sofia Gallarate

Jul 6, 2020

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As COVID-19 lockdown regulations in the UK are slowly loosening up and life is gradually readjusting to a semi-normal rhythm, the consequences of the lockdown are still heavily affecting not only the country’s economy but its most vulnerable population. On 2 July, a report by Amanda Taub and Jane Bradley published in The New York Times revealed an unsettling spike in domestic abuse cases taking place in the UK during the coronavirus lockdown, highlighting how these unusual numbers are still growing four months into the pandemic.

According to the investigation, the British government response to this emergency hasn’t been in any way appropriate. First, the government failed to foresee a growth in the number of domestic violence cases. Following that mistake, it hasn’t since been able to provide the necessary support, leaving an increasing number of victims with little public resources to rely on.

During the lockdown alone, at least 26 women and girls (with the youngest being a 2-year-old child), have been killed in suspected domestic homicides. Sixteen of them were murdered in the first month, a number that corresponds to three times more the number of women killed under similar circumstances in the same period in 2019.

Calls to abuse hotlines are spiking and both charities and housing for victims are struggling to respond to the increasing numbers of requests. As reported by The New York Times, the pressure put on the court system is also triggering delays in court hearings, enabling some abusers to go back to their houses despite the restraining orders previously applied on them—a move that puts victims in higher danger and unthinkable psychological stress.

Unfortunately, Britain is far from being the only country witnessing a disturbing rise in domestic abuse cases. Italy for instance, has seen a similar spike whose seriousness was revealed by the low amount of calls that domestic abuse hotlines received during the lockdown. This demonstrated how, without the possibility of being alone, women struggle to reach out for help.

In Italy and Spain, alternative solutions have been found to respond to this social crisis—in some cases, the state has promoted the offering of temporary hotel rooms as a substitute to overpopulated shelters. Places like New Zealand, where social policies have in recent times drastically improved due to the presence of Prime Minister Jacinda Kate Laurell Ardern, organised emergency ‘domestic abuse preparations’ when preparing the state lockdown plan.

The UK government promised to invest 37 million pounds in emergency funds for domestic abuse charities, however, up until now, only 1 million pounds has been received by local organisations. It shouldn’t come as a surprise: COVID-19 emergency put aside, the public funding of public entities and private organisations providing support to domestic abuse survivors underwent recurrent budget cuts, which in a moment of unprecedented strain lead to what could be defined as a tragedy within a tragedy.

In their investigation, Amanda Taub and Jane Bradley have highlighted that the number of cases could actually be higher than 26. According to the Counting Dead Women project, an organisation of researchers that tracks the killing of women by the hand of partners and relatives in the UK, the calculation did not include transgender women.

The lives of domestic abuse survivors are often valued when it’s too late. This peak in domestic abuse cases has not only hit Britain but Europe and the whole world. Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, it has also highlighted how much more work needs to be done by state governments in order to properly respond to gender-based and domestic violence.

By collecting testimonies and telling the stories of the 26 victims killed in the UK, featuring their names and their portraits, The New York Times’ investigation has turned these numbers into actual stories, giving a voice to the women and the girls that are, to this day, still silenced. Because sharing these stories might be the first step towards making domestic violence visible once and for all by our governments—the first step towards change.