Coronavirus is a nightmare for domestic violence victims

In Switzerland, every two weeks a woman is killed by her partner or ex-partner, and isolation may aggravate the problem. Keystone / Maurizio Gambarini

What happens when the doors to the house are locked? If the hope of stopping the Covid-19 pandemic lies in the confinement of populations, isolation also leaves more leeway for violent spouses. Swiss victim support organisations are concerned.    

Stay home! The most important measure to combat the Covid-19 pandemic is being broadcast everywhere, in Switzerland as in many other countries. This injunction presupposes that the home is a safe and cosy place. But many people, especially women experience domestic violence, turning confinement into a nightmare. 

"We are in a contradictory situation: people are told to stay at home, but for victims of domestic violence staying at home is more dangerous than going out," says Myriame Zufferey, director of Solidarité Femmes for the Biel region. Since the government imposed restrictions on people’s movement to stem the spread of coronavirus, the phone of this help service for women victims of violence has been ringing less frequently. 

What could be interpreted as a good sign is unfortunately not, according to its director. "We believe that women confined with their aggressor no longer find the space to call for help," she says. In order to contact support services, which remain open, victims must be able to escape the control of their violent spouse. 

Does isolation make him violent?

It is feared that situations are likely to escalate because of confinement. "Quarantine is a challenge for all families. It increases pressure on family systems and can increase dysfunction," says Zuffrey. In addition, the coronavirus crisis puts some families in a fragile financial situation, which further increases stress and the risk of conflict. 

To avoid the worst, the key is daring to ask for help in time. Zuffrey calls on everyone to take responsibility. "People likely to become violent can also seek help, especially from organisations that work with abusers," she says. Generally speaking, when things get too much, she advises people to go out and exercise or get some fresh air. 

At national level, the figures do not yet show an increase in domestic violence. However, while calls in Biel have so far decreased, other victim support organisations are already reporting an increase. This is the case at the counselling centre co-run by Pia Alleman in Zurich. "Anyone can be affected. However, the danger is greater for families with many children, who live in a small apartment and whose parents do not have a stable employment situation," she said in an interview with the news website Watson

The Chinese experience

Aware of the problem, the Swiss government has set up a task force headed by the Federal Office for Gender Equality (FOGE). The task force is responsible for regularly assessing the situation and considering measures that should be taken in the event of an increase in domestic violence. In a press release, it points out that the cantonal centres specializing in victim assistance are operational.

Lessons learned from the coronavirus lockdown in China, which has now ended, are not encouraging on the domestic violence front. The quarantine only aggravated the problem, as an article in the Tribune de Genève notes. "In the Chinese press, testimonies of battered, abused or kidnapped women abound," the newspaper wrote. Italy, where all citizens are subject to strict confinement, is also seeing an increase in violence within the home. Isolation can sometimes bring out the worst in a human being.  

Where to get help in Switzerland

Police 

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Free, confidential, anonymous counselling across Switzerland

www.aide-aux-victimes.ch

Addresses of shelters

https://www.aide-aux-victimes.ch/fr/ou-puis-je-trouver-de-laide/

https://frauenhaus-schweiz.ch/fr/page-daccueil

https://www.violencequefaire.ch

For perpetrators

Counselling and help programmes:

www.apscv.ch

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