Why domestic abuse is now an international cause

A spike in domestic violence during the coronavirus lockdown has resulted in a vigorous response to provide shelter and protection beyond one’s home.

German Minister for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, Franziska Giffey attaches a sticker at the register of cashier Kerstin Strasen in a supermarket in Berlin, April 29. Minister Giffey started a nationwide campaign for supermarkets to act as place for people to report domestic violence.

Governments around the world are starting to realize that an order for individuals to “shelter in place” may require shelter other than one’s house. In many countries, domestic abuse has spiked under the stress of COVID-19 lockdowns and rising layoffs. The United Nations calls it a “shadow pandemic,” estimating that every three months of lockdown will add 15 million extra cases of gender-based violence worldwide.

Yet even as the U.N. and others raise an alarm over people trapped at home with abusive partners, they are rushing to provide support for abuse hotlines and temporary shelters. Instead of a call to “stay home, stay safe,” they are pushing an alternative to stay safe by defining home itself.

In France, Spain, Germany, and Colombia, campaigns have started to train managers of supermarkets and pharmacies to respond to women seeking help because of domestic abuse but who are afraid to do so at home during forced isolation.

The U.N. is funding new domestic-abuse shelters in countries seeing a surge in abuse, such as Tunisia, where cases have risen fivefold in recent weeks.

In some wealthier countries, legislation for dealing with the economic fallout from the coronavirus includes money to stem a rise in domestic violence. In the United States, the CARES Act passed by Congress provides close to $100 million in additional money for programs aimed at protecting women and children. Some lawmakers are now seeking additional funds.

Private groups and individuals are also stepping up. The Mary Kay Foundation and the De Beers Group are donating money for shelters as are music icon Rihanna and Twitter founder Jack Dorsey.

In early April, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres warned of a “horrifying global surge in domestic violence.” Since then the U.N. reports a “very positive response” from a number of countries that have flagged the issue. Putting a spotlight on this shadow pandemic has brought hope for many now in abusive situations, offering them a new meaning of home and safety.

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