Domestic violence while lockdown

Outgoing restrictions and social distancing are currently much discussed terms. What happens behind closed doors when people are forced to stay at home is less in focus. We talk with Prof. Dr. Sylvia Sacco from the Institute for Social Work at the BTU about the feared increase in domestic violence during the lockdown due to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.

Which factors are currently increasing the incidence of domestic violence?

For this we need to look at the factors caused by the current exceptional situations of the Covid19 pandemic. The protective measures taken to reduce the number of deaths are at the same time accompanied by factors such as isolation, loss of contact, limited space (large cities), job losses, short-time work and increased home office activities. The latter is particularly burdensome for families with children and, in addition to the problems already mentioned, quickly pushes adults to their limits, especially when external childcare is no longer available. We know from studies that the risk for women to become victims of domestic violence increases with the number of children. Financial problems, stress situations caused by working from home, overtime, shortages, etc. should not be underestimated. Finally, we should not forget to take into account the psychological burden of fears that one or a family member could become seriously ill. Overall, this can lead to dangerous pressure in (former) partnerships and families, which escalates into violence.

Who are the victims?

Domestic violence is defined differently in the federal states. A nationwide comparison shows, however, that in the bright field, in the statistics of PKS almost exclusively violence between (former) partners is registered. We speak of "bright field" when incidents of violence become public, i.e. are reported. Domestic violence is particularly directed against women, more than 80% of whom are victims of physical, psychological and economic violence. Almost without exception, women are affected by sexualised violence. The perpetrators are men, with few exceptions. However, studies show that men can also be victims. The male sex is then predominantly affected by psychological forms of violence. Domestic violence also affects children and this has serious effects. Even if children are present when their mothers are violently abused, serious damage can occur, which can affect future generations. A number of scientific studies have already documented this very well.

Why the fears of an increase in domestic violence are not always reflected in concrete police reports?

A distinction must be made here between bright field and dark field. The latter concerns the actual existence or occurrence of the crimes, which, however, remain undetected for a variety of reasons. If we now look at the current restrictions in life, it has become more difficult for women to leave their homes for a longer period of time, to make other people aware of their own difficult situation or to secretly phone for help. The extent to which neighbours are more willing to look the other way when they witness events in this exceptional situation remains speculative. If there is currently no significant increase in reports in some federal states, this does not necessarily document the actual situation.

Is this issue already being considered in current political and health debates? How do you assess the media attention?

The increase in the media, reports, and calls to the women's shelters and counseling centers and those of other institutions show, in addition to the rising number of criminal charges, that the problem is increasing and that this is being recognized. Now the search for solutions can begin.

How can we help the victims?

First of all, the federal, state and local governments are called upon to offer the protective measures and assistance that were promised in the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (the so-called Istanbul Convention), which became binding upon Germany's accession in 2018.

How long are the current restrictions sustainable?

There are no generally binding recommendations here. After all, the point is that a difficult balancing act to save human lives is at stake. However, if the imposition of protective measures leads to increased suffering for many women and children and the death rate from femicides increases, we must react accordingly. It is now becoming apparent here that even before the pandemic, the measures to protect women and children affected by violence were not accessible and available to all those affected.

What consequences do you expect for the affected?

No reliable data are available at the moment. In order to prevent the situation from escalating even further, specialised social work professionals should be consulted at federal, state and local level. Incidentally, this also applies to other areas that are supported and steered by social work. In particular, the targeted use of monetary aid and needs-based management could prevent not only high follow-up costs, but also much suffering and loss of life through violence.

Where can those affected turn to?

The nationwide helpline promises advice and help 08000/116016. Counselling centres and womens shelters can also help.

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