No Place Like Home: A Tragedy Behind Closed Doors
Tamara Moule takes a look at the current surge of domestic violence occurring globally and the measures taken to combat it
The Coronavirus can be a deadly killer, and does not discriminate, taking the lives of front-line doctors and nurses that are facing cases of it every day. In Italy, Lorena Quaranta, a 27-year-old recently-qualified medic had joined in the fight against the virus, encouraging friends and co-workers to ‘think and remember those that dedicate their lives daily to looking after our sick.’ Quaranta died in early April, but it was not the Coronavirus that caused her death. She was strangled in her home by her boyfriend.
Worldwide, increases in domestic abuse have become a worrying trend since countries started ‘locking down’ earlier this year in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19. But for many women trapped at home with their abusers, the measures that have been put in place to save lives have created bigger risks than ever before. Karen Ingala Smith, chief executive of a domestic abuse charity, explains that the “Lockdown may restrict some women’s access to support or escape and it may even curtail measures some men take to keep their own violence under control.” Smith explains the need to “be cautious about how we talk about increases in men killing women”, but also points out data that overwhelmingly shows an increase in domestic violence-related female deaths since the beginning of the UK’s lockdown.
Quaranta died in early April, but it was not the Coronavirus that caused her death. She was strangled in her home by her boyfriend.
Counting Dead Women, a project lead by Smith to count killings of women by men in the UK, estimated sixteen domestic-violence related deaths (including those of children) between 23 March and 12 April 2020, with the same three-week period averaging at five deaths in the previous ten years. Domestic abuse charities and helplines are also reportedly logging a surge of calls since the beginning of the UK lockdown, following similar trends in other European countries.
The most obvious reasons for an increase in domestic violence in ‘lockdown’ conditions may be that victims and abusers are confined to a small space without the opportunity to go out, but Smith explains that the lockdown conditions may also “exacerbate triggers” that abusers already have. “I might prefer to call [the triggers] excuses,” she adds. An increasingly uncertain global situation which can cause stress in the healthiest of households poses significant risks to women in abusive relationships, as abusers may turn to violence as an outlet to these stressors.
An increasingly uncertain global situation which can cause stress in the healthiest of households poses significant risks to women
Alice Liveing, Fitness Instructor and ambassador for the charity Women’s Aid, makes a similar comment on the triggering factors in abusive relationships in a recent article. “Being in a relationship with a perpetrator is scary enough, not being able to get even a second’s break from them is just awful. If you pair that with that the current spike in people drinking alcohol, stress, anxiety and financial concerns – all things we know that exacerbate relationships that may already be abusive – you can see that the current lockdown is a truly terrifying situation for women and children who are living in an abusive household.” Liveing, who herself was a victim of an abusive relationship in her teens, explains that charities such as Women’s Aid are invaluable to victims at this time, as they provide a “safe space” for victims to get help and advice, not only for physically but also emotionally and financially coercive relationships.
The issue of domestic violence has not gone unnoticed, with the UK government recently pledging £76 million to support vulnerable people trapped in dangerous situations at home, while responses in Spain and other European countries have been more creative. For example, the Canary Islands introduced the Mascarilla-19 scheme from the 17 March, which allows women to ask for a Mascarilla-19 (a mask-19) at a pharmacy in order to alert the pharmacist that they need help for a volatile domestic situation. Pharmacists will then alert emergency services while the victim can return home or wait at the pharmacy for them to arrive. The scheme was quickly taken up across other Spanish cities, with French authorities also adopting the strategy from the 27 March, encouraging victims to request a “Masque-19” at a pharmacy if they felt they were in danger of domestic violence or sexual assault. Yet the strategy is in no way a solution, with not all victims able to access pharmacies, or leave the home without their abuser. For those unable to access these services or speak to a friend or relative, helplines and chatrooms remain a potential source of assistance. However, trapped in close proximity to an abuser, countless victims remain caught between the double threat of Coronavirus on the outside, and the constant threat of violence at home.
…countless victims remain caught between the double threat of Coronavirus on the outside, and the constant threat of violence at home.
In Favara, the hometown of Lorena Quaranta, the 27-year-old victim murdered by her boyfriend in Italy, it was not masks used as a symbol for her struggle, but white sheets that were hung from the windows and balconies of homes as her coffin arrived there. As the local mayor, Anna Alba explained, the act represented “the purity of her spirit, and the colour of that uniform she dreamed of wearing for the rest of her life”. Amongst the crisis of the global pandemic, there are warning calls that sufferers of domestic violence will become the hidden victims of the ‘lockdown’ strategy. A safe place to isolate for many, ‘home’ remains the most dangerous place to be for those living with an abuser.
Domestic violence: Useful contacts
Spain: National helpline 016; email firstname.lastname@example.org; psychological support service via WhatsApp +34 682 916 136/+34 682 508 507; ask for Mascarilla-19 in a pharmacy
Italy: Government helpline 1522
Belgium: Access support via 0800 30 030 in French or in Dutch on 1712
France: The national helpline is 3919, and in an emergency send an SMS to 114 or call 17; ask for Masque-19 in a pharmacy
Russia: Anna Centre helpline – 8 800 700 06 00Across Europe support services via Women Against Violence Europe (WAVE) Network.