News and Articles

Domestic Violence Awareness Month: COVID-19 & The “Invisible Pandemic”

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November 25, 2020

In an effort to contain the spread of the highly contagious COVID-19 virus and protect the most vulnerable within our communities, mandatory lockdowns have been implemented across the globe. For people experiencing domestic violence, however, these measures leave them trapped with their abusers and isolated from support networks. According to the United Nations, one in three women experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, making it “the most widespread but among the least reported human rights abuses.” It is worth noting that while women constitute the majority of victims, men are also subject to domestic violence. Members of the LGBTQ+ community are also vulnerable, and experience elevated rates of domestic violence as well as barriers when seeking resources that are tailored to their identities. 

In an article published by the Council on Foreign Relations entitled “A Double Pandemic: Domestic Violence in the Age of COVID-19,” co-authors Caroline Bettinger-Lopez, Director of the Miami Law Human Rights Clinic and Former Obama White House Advisor on Violence Against Women, and Alexandra Bro, Research Associate at the Council on Foreign Relations, cite reports from across the world signalling significant increases in domestic violence cases and examine the policy responses required to support survivors in this time of crisis. Experts have characterized the unprecedented conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic as producing a parallel “invisible pandemic” of domestic violence. 

As the economy strains under the weight of the global health crisis and previously steady sources of income become threatened, people are faced with heightened financial pressures and stress. Simultaneously, vital social services such as shelters, food banks, legal aid offices, childcare centers, and rape crisis centers have been overwhelmed and understaffed due to reduced funding and social distancing measures. This perilous overlap between the scarcity of community resources for victims, and abusers experiencing sudden financial stress and a perceived loss of control, serves as a tinderbox for domestic violence.

Bettinger-Lopez and Bro urge governments, NGOs, and the private sector to incorporate a human rights and gender lens into their COVID-19 responses, asserting that COVID-19 provides a unique lens through which to understand the gendered and economic dimensions of social isolation and vulnerability. Only by fostering community-centered protections for victims through rigorous and gender-sensitive policy reforms, can we defend against a disastrous pandemic of domestic violence within COVID-19.

This summer, Social Connectedness Fellows – Lebogang Mahlalela, Bianca Braganza and Lateisha Ugwuegbula – undertook research to learn more about the crisis of domestic violence during the pandemic within Canada and South Africa. They created a social media campaign to raise awareness about the #OtherPandemic of domestic violence, and Bianca wrote an article about how home isn’t the safest place for everyone earlier this summer. The group also put together a list of resources from Canada and South Africa: 

Shelters and Transition Houses

Crisis Lines

Newcomer Services

Sexual Harassment

Legal Aid/Support Services

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