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Domestic abuse is spiking in lockdown - so what can be done about it?

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On Monday, UN Chief Antonio Guterres warned of an uptick in domestic abuse, with half the world's population living under lockdown measures that force people into close quarters for extended periods of time.

That warning was based on some horrifying statistics. Cases of domestic abuse in France have spiked by a third in the first week since the country locked down. The National Domestic Abuse helpline in the UK has seen a 25 per cent increase in calls and online requests for help. In Spain, calls to the government hotline for gendered violence increased by 12 per cent compared to the same time last year in the first two weeks of lockdown.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned that women are facing more violence in lockdown

Those numbers are shocking to some — but most experts in the field knew to expect them.

"It was expected, we saw this begin to happen right from the start in China," Suzanne Jacob, the chief executive of UK domestic abuse charity SafeLives told Euronews.

"Specialist services there that respond to abuse were reporting a three-fold increase in people seeking their help, and then that pattern has been happening all over the world as people have gone into lockdown. And we shouldn't be surprised by that, domestic abuse is all about power and control, it's about somebody trying to limit who you are, how you are, what you can do. And of course this situation exaggerates all of those tenets of domestic abuse."

In response to the crisis in France, Emmanuel Macron's government has committed to putting abuse survivors in hotels, and paying for pop-up counselling areas in grocery stores. This is the type of approach some charities are saying is necessary — while nothing is operating as normal, the businesses that are still open can try to provide help.

Jacob said that some smaller charity organisations simply aren't equipped to operate in lockdown.

"Some of the specialist charities are very small, very poorly resourced, and the ability to kind of turn on a sixpence and start working in an agile way from home, for example, instead of an office space or going out and seeing people face-to-face... All the motivation is there, but the resourcing is really really difficult for them, and we're yet to see any recognition of that on the part of the UK government, which is really disappointing."

Domestic abuse victims are often already isolated, as the abuser seeks to maintain control over most aspects of their victim's life. In many cases, people who are trained to spot the signs of domestic abuse are able to do so and get involved. But with the threat so high and the specialist response hampered by the pandemic, Jacob says it's now time for others to take it upon themselves to get involved.

"Many of us are still in touch with our employer, on a daily basis, we're also in touch with our bank and financial institutions for a lot of various reasons in terms of security of employment, security of our finances. So there are different kind of organisations who maybe don't normally play a role in the domestic abuse response, whose moment is now to make sure they understand, what is domestic abuse, how can I support somebody? We're not asking them to become specialists, but what role could they play in raising the alarm if they need to?"

"Equally, we know that this is going to be about communities as well. Every single one of us has some understanding of the life of our neighbours and the people living in our vicinity, even if we don't know them really well. And this is the moment for us to act like a community, and to understand that if we're worried about somebody, adult or child, it's the right thing to do to find out whether that person needs help. And it may be that you can't do that yourself, but you can call somebody, whether it's the police or again specialist services who may be able to support you with that."

Even if the response isn't perfect, the first step is to raise awareness of the issue.

"It's so important that we talk about this at the moment," said Jacob. "Make sure people know that they're not alone and that help is still available."

If you or someone you know is experiencing or in danger of domestic violence, please reach out. Help is available. In the UK, call 999. In France, call 17 or text 114 for emergencies. Anywhere in the EU, call 112. For a list of other national hotline numbers, click here.