Pandemic restrictions like quarantine and bans isolate vulnerable individuals and limit their chances of safely exiting an abusive situation. Photo credit: Wictor Cardoso from Pexels
A specific item bought at the grocery store, a hand sign made during a video call, a numeric code pressed when dialing an emergency service such as 911, or a specific word used at the pharmacy. All of them seem harmless enough, but all are innovative ways that people experiencing domestic abuse can alert employees and others that they need help.
The measures were developed and implemented in Canada and around the world when it became clear that the restrictions in place to fight the spread of COVID-19 were indeed contributing to an increase in domestic violence in what the United Nations called a “shadow” pandemic . “Quarantines and lockdowns meant that people in abusive relationships could be forced to stay in their homes and limit contact with friends and family.
Dr. Lori Weeks, a gerontologist at Dalhousie School of Nursing, decided to investigate the problem after hearing stories of the rise in violence and the adjustment of service providers so they could still reach people in abusive environments during the pandemic. Studies have shown that such restrictions isolate vulnerable individuals and limit their chances of safely leaving an abusive situation. Because of this, groups helping victims of abuse have had to find different and more discreet ways to provide help.
“By nature, this is really the dynamic in abusive relationships where the abuser isolates his partner, doesn’t have much contact with other people, and just wants to be in control of everything that goes on,” she said.
“So we thought it would be really useful to summarize what we know about how familial or domestic violence can be brought about under COVID.”
Gain a global perspective
On June 23, Dr. Weeks and her team set up a database to scan French and English media reports on initiatives designed to support women suffering from domestic violence from the start of the pandemic in March to this date. They did it this way to speed the research, since such studies can take up to a year to collect results.
Using a specific language and with the help of librarians, the team developed a search strategy that compiled a combination of the words for cats from a wide web and captured as many results as possible including terms such as intimate partner violence and abuse of women.
The search returned nearly 2,500 reports, which were reduced to around 50 unique stories describing the new ways people can get help. These included initiatives in Canada, the United States, Australia, Japan and the United Kingdom that include technology-enabled services, partnerships with key services such as grocery stores, the provision of housing and supporting legal resources.
At the technological level, several social media websites, Zoom and Apps developed help lines and online resources such as: For example, an interactive map of Ireland identifying places where help is available near home (www.StillHere.ie).
Dr. Weeks said that some of the more innovative approaches were designed to help people who couldn’t speak easily because an abuser could overhear the conversation. For example, if you call 911, someone can press 55 to notify the police that it is a domestic violence emergency.
The Canadian Women’s Foundation has launched a hand signal – similar to a clenched fist – that can be used on video calls to indicate that help is needed. In the UK, some stores include contact information for domestic abuse assistance on receipts. At other important services, women can use code words or purchase specific items to let staff know they need help.
“We were really impressed with the creative methods that were developing very quickly to meet people’s needs in this COVID-19 context,” she said. “That way you can seek help even when you are isolated, unable to go out, or when someone else is monitoring your conversations.”
Adaptation to different circumstances
Many of the new approaches outlined in a report released in September were designed for people who may not have access to technology. Dr. However, Weeks also noted that some groups provided free cell phones and WiFi. One initiative in the UK was to buy cell phones with credit and hide them in food packaging.
“The downside of this is that a person who doesn’t have access to such technology is even more vulnerable. So one of the more interesting interventions we identified was how we can provide women with technology. There are some interesting things that have developed.” says Dr. Weeks.
The team’s goal is to share the information with the abused and anyone who is able to provide services.
“We really want to give people an idea of what is possible and what is being done in other places, and hopefully this can be adapted and modified for their particular context.”
As domestic violence increases, many victims and their children have nowhere to live. Provided by Dalhousie University
Quote: Service providers are making adjustments to address the rise in domestic violence during the pandemic (2020, November 3). Retrieved November 3, 2020 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-11-crafting-combat-domestic-violence-pandemic .html
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