Lockdown hides violence against women
Violence against women has increased within families, but reporting has decreased
MartorellShe doesn't even want to invent a name to identify herself, or mention the Baix Llobregat municipality where she lives, because she still shakes when she remembers the day the local police took her and her children to safety. She was in a foster home for two weeks until friends made room for her at home. She explains that the municipal services were aware of the violence she was experiencing but that during the lockdown in April she did not "dare" to report the beatings and insults she was suffering for fear of being left on the streets with the children. This is the story of many women who, during the hard months of restrictions, were forced to live with their aggressor night and day, with no space to socialize or warn of the abuse.
The World Health Organization (WHO) warned months ago that lockdown put women around the world at risk of violence in their homes, a statement that has been verified by all actors involved in the care of women in Catalunya. They have noticed it in the Fundació Aroa, where at the beginning of the crisis women called directly, without being referred to by the social services. Its director, Neus Pociello, estimates that this small entity has attended up to 30% more women and up to 237% more minors - who have also suffered direct violence - compared to last year. In six months, the Red Cross has provided services to 3,500 women and children, a figure that represents 90% of the entire previous year, and the municipal social services complain about the lack of physical spaces where the victims can be out of the reach of their aggressor, since centres and shelters are already overcrowded, and the new places that have been set up have not been able to cope.
"Lockdown was hell for many women", illustrates Marta López-Algás, director of the Specialized Intervention Service (SIE) in Manresa, who explains that they had to adapt quickly to the new situation and needs, and they encouraged telephone assistance because they realized that violence was being silenced behind closed doors.
The paradox is that while all telephones and information services provided have been more active than ever, there has been a 14% decrease in complaints. However, from July onwards a increase which is more similar to the historical average has been noted, coinciding with the relaxation of restrictions, said the Minister of Home Affairs, Miquel Sàmper, in an appearance on the occasion of 25-N, the International Day for the Eradication of Violence against Women. More than half of the complaints are for psychological abuse and almost half for physical violence, while harassment by networks and sexual harassment have percentages below 4%, in a similar correlation to 2019.
The reasons for this lower number of complaints are diverse and clearly do not reflect reality. On the one hand, there is a "constant control" exercised by the abuser locked up at home with the victim, who is scared to alert for fear of reprisals - explains Maribel Cárdenas, director of equality policies and LGTBI of the Santa Coloma de Gramenet City Council, which for years has deployed a comprehensive plan to address violence against women. On the other hand, forced isolation prevented or made it difficult for women to go to the police station to report, and in many cases the services they already knew and considered a "space of confidentiality" were closed. In addition, during spring, both schools and primary healthcare centres became virtual and did not act as "alerts", says López-Algás in an online chat about how to accompany the victims. Making decisions in a stressful situation, the expert explains, is not easy, and deciding to file a complaint is a "long process in which the woman has to be very sure".
It is still too early to determine what the impact on the emotional health of the women who - as Cárdenas recalls - have stayed at home with the abuser will be, but also on those who have had to work in care, cleaning, and healthcare jobs, or in supermarkets, when the streets were empty. Pociello, from Fundació Aroa, believes that lockdown has harmed women who lived with the abuser but also those who were starting to get by, as well as older women, who have been left behind because the emergence of the problem led to services and resources being concentrated on caring for women with younger children, she regrets.
Dr. Rafaela Ramos, president of the Resilience Institute of the Medical Association of Madrid, says that, for the moment, psychiatric consultations have only dealt with post-traumatic stress among people who have not been able to say goodbye to family members who have died during the pandemic, but she does not rule out that the symptoms appear in victims of violence. "The worst demons have come out", says the psychiatrist, who believes that lockdown has acted as an "enabler" for men with "adaptive or impulse control disorders" and has also increased violence from adult children towards their parents. "What was wrong has been made worse", she says.