Dealing with Violence against Women in Domestic Relationships during the COVID-19 Pandemic: An International Review

In March 2020, with the global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, Israel along with many other countries, issued directives and imposed compulsory restrictions on the public, including the order to remain at home and the closure of workplaces. This challenging situation exacerbated the plight of victims of domestic violence. Moreover, the number of victims was expected to grow due to increased risk factors such as emotional stress and anxiety, loss of jobs, economic distress, confinement to the home, and the difficulty in accessing sources of support. Furthermore, service providers were could not meet their clients and the support services made cutbacks to the professional staff.

Around the world, efforts were made to cope with the pandemic’s effect upon domestic violence vis-à-vis the identification of those in need, the provision of services and support, emergency services, etc., by increasing existing services and developing and implementing strategies appropriate for the new situation. The current report is a review of the ways that selected countries – the United States (Portland and Washington), Canada, the United Kingdom, Spain, France, Germany, India, South Korea[1] and Australia – are addressing domestic violence during the crisis. The countries were selected because we were able to find key information about the subject, with an emphasis on those where the incidence of the disease was more widespread than in Israel (Spain, the UK, the USA, and Germany).

The review[2] focuses on violence against women in domestic relationships and does not examine domestic violence against men, against the elderly or against children. The review was carried out mainly using open sources (the internet, official documentation and the media). Most of the findings appear below and in the summary table in section 6 of the Hebrew report.

Main Findings

  1. Domestic violence is addressed at 3 main levels: individual, community, and state.
  2. At the individual level – creating mechanisms for discreet, silent contact including: dialing a given number without speaking, sending an SMS text message, using apps, online chat, using an agreed codeword with a contact person, and contacting the pharmacy for help.
  3. At the community level – raising public awareness of the increased risk: Advertising campaigns in the media, internet and shops that are open, calling on the public to show awareness and concern for the women around them and offer them help; guidelines and information for the public – dissemination of information about what the services do and the channels of contact, as well as practical advice for women to ensure their personal safety while they are housebound with their abusive partner.
  4. At the state level – providing financial support in order to reduce female victims’ financial dependence on their abusive partners, particularly during a time of unemployment and increased economic pressure; providing remote services – remote enforcement of court orders to protect women, provision of therapeutic services, and hotlines to provide support and counseling, video or chat. Where necessary, face-to-face meetings ensuring protective measures are in place; increasing the number of shelters – converting hotels and guest houses into shelters for battered women and their children; sensitive rapid response and impromptu activity by the police – visits to families at risk, immediate response to calls, including, if necessary, device tracking. In places where it is forbidden to leave the house, the police allows victims to leave home for a shelter or to seek help even without a permit.
  5. An additional challenge is presented by new families entering the cycle of violence. Some of the above responses can help here too. Special emphasis should be placed on identifying new cases.

[1] Special thanks to Shir Zanesko for her help obtaining information from South Korea.

[2] The review was conducted for the Research and Development Division of the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services and the National Program for the Prevention of Domestic Violence.

For MJB’s publications on the COVID-19 pandemic in English, press here.

For MJB’s publications on the COVID-19 pandemic in Hebrew, press here.