Updated: Aug 24
By Gaby Mikhail
I was in seventh grade when one of my friends told me her mother hit her when she was upset. I didn’t know what to do. I was thirteen and I couldn’t confide in any of the people I normally would— family, friends, teachers— they were all out of the question. I wanted to help so I asked her if I should call the police or find someone she could talk to, but she said telling me and knowing that someone was there for her was enough.
Yet I still wanted to talk to help. I wanted to talk to someone because I knew my friend wouldn’t. I wanted to talk to someone because I knew she couldn’t.
COVID-19 has led to a spike in domestic violence cases across the world and with it a spike in calls to domestic violence hotlines. As families are more likely to be at home, individuals may be forced to stay in close proximity with a violent partner or family member. In some countries, calls to domestic violence hotlines have doubled (Neuman). The large majority of these calls are coming from women and young girls.
Some countries are handling this surge better than others. France for example, has followed Spain’s lead, adopting drug stores as a place to ask for help discreetly. Women can alert pharmacists by asking for “mask 19” and will quickly be assisted by police officers (Kottasová).
Yet even those countries who seem to be coping well are struggling. The French police have been drowning in the influx in cases, as reported domestic violence incidents have increased by more than 36% (Kottasová). Additionally, domestic violence hotlines are struggling to keep up, as the majority of them were already understaffed and underfunded before the virus began.
In other countries, like Italy, the number of reported cases is actually going down (Kottasová). However, most say this is not indicative of a decrease in domestic violence incidents but of a smaller time window away from partners to ask for help.
One woman described the extent that her husband would go to surveil her saying “I can’t even have privacy in the bathroom — and now I have to endure this in a lockdown” (Taub).
Asking for help is hard. Yet I can’t imagine how much harder it is when you feel unable to do so safely and without the threat of repercussion. This problem will not just go away either. The coronavirus is having horrific economic impacts worldwide. In the United States alone over 30 million people have filed for unemployment in the last six weeks (Palumbo). For many going back to work is no longer a matter of when, but if, and trends show that economic downturn correlates to an increase in physical and sexual abuse (Taub).
That is why small businesses and community members need to work together to make survivors of domestic abuse feel that they have a support network that they can turn to. By posting a codeword, like “Rise Up 19” next to a cashier or in a shop window and training employees to call 911 or a domestic violence hotline if alerted, businesses are able to not only provide domestic violence victims a way to safely ask for help but to make them feel they have a support network they can turn to.
And for some like my friend, that may just be enough to give them hope.
How You Can Help
Kottasová, Ivana. “Women Are Using Code Words at Pharmacies to Escape Domestic Violence.” CNN, Cable News Network, 6 Apr. 2020, www.cnn.com/2020/04/02/europe/domestic-violence-coronavirus-lockdown-intl/index.html.
Neuman, Scott. “Global Lockdowns Resulting In 'Horrifying Surge' In Domestic Violence, U.N. Warns.” NPR, NPR, 6 Apr. 2020, www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/04/06/827908402/global-lockdowns-resulting-in-horrifying-surge-in-domestic-violence-u-n-warns.
Palumbo, Daniele. “Coronavirus: A Visual Guide to the Economic Impact.” BBC News, BBC, 30 Apr. 2020, www.bbc.com/news/amp/business-51706225.
Taub, Amanda. “A New Covid-19 Crisis: Domestic Abuse Rises Worldwide.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 6 Apr. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/04/06/world/coronavirus-domestic-violence.html.