Governments and support groups worry victims are unable to seek protection or flee to safety because of lockdowns imposed to battles the new coronavirus

A 26-year-old victim of domestic violence poses for pictures in Moscow, Russia on February 3, 2017.
A 26-year-old victim of domestic violence poses for pictures in Moscow, Russia on February 3, 2017. (AFP)

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres says there has been “a horrifying global surge in domestic violence” in recent weeks as fear of the coronavirus pandemic has grown along with its social and economic consequences.

The UN chief, who appealed on March 23 for an immediate cease-fire in conflicts around the world to tackle Covid-19, said in a statement on Sunday night it is now time to appeal for an end to all violence, “everywhere, now.”

Guterres said that “for many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest — in their own homes.”

“And, so, I make a new appeal today for peace at home — and in homes — around the world,” he said.

The secretary general said in some countries, which he didn’t name, “the number of women calling support services has doubled.”

At the same time, he said, health care providers and police are overwhelmed and understaffed, local support groups are paralysed or short of funds, and some domestic violence shelters are closed while others are full.

“I urge all governments to make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of their national response plans for Covid-19,” Guterres said.

In Italy, support groups fear the lockdown is silencing domestic abuse victims.

Citing official data, a parliamentary committee into violence against women said last week that reports to police of domestic abuse dropped to 652 in the first 22 days of March, when Italy went into lockdown, from 1,157 in the same period of 2019.

Telefono Rosa, Italy's largest domestic violence helpline, said calls fell 55 percent to 496 in the first two weeks of March from 1,104 in the same period last year.

Other help groups said they had seen similar declines.

The parliamentary committee's report said the trend did not mean a decline in violence against women but was rather a signal that "victims of violence risk being even more exposed to control and aggression by a partner who mistreats them."

"There are a lot of problems in this situation, maybe not the least of them is the difficulty of asking for help when everyone is obliged to stay at home," said Alessandra Simone, director of the police criminal division in Milan.

Successive Italian governments have passed reforms aimed at improving protections, but 13.6 percent of women have suffered violence from a partner or ex-partner, according to national statistics bureau Istat.

Source: AP