Pandemic-related lockdowns led to an increase in psychological and sexual violence

Gender-based violence (GBV) is a social problem and the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant negative impact on the well-being, autonomy and health of women exposed to this situation. In this sense, the results of a project on gender violence and social and health responses during the COVID-19 crisis, led by University of Alicante (UA) researcher Carmen Vives-Cases, report that during the months of lockdown there was an increase in psychological and sexual violence. This data translates into an increase in demands for psychological care, accompaniment, listening and help to cover the basic needs of women and their children, such as housing, food, etc.

In this period, in Spain as a whole, there was a 45% increase in the number of calls to the 016 telephone service for information and attention to gender violence, while complaints, protection orders and murders decreased notably. This decrease, together with the increase in calls to 016, suggests that lockdowns by COVID-19 led to a change in women’s demand for formal help. Possibly because compulsory cohabitation increased the control of the abusers and made it more difficult to seek help, while women implemented strategies to mitigate the conflict, as stateQuestionnaired by Carmen Vives-Cases.

According to data from the project, although the number of complaints filed during the months of lockdown decreased in general, there was an increase in complaints of different types of serious violence. According to the UA researcher and professor of Preventive Medicine and Public Health, there was an increase in the probability of complaints of serious physical violence, of serious psychological violence in cases where there were minors in charge of the women exposed, and of complaints of serious threats made by aggressors who had already shown harassing behaviour in the past.

Barriers

Regarding the impact of the pandemic on the work of gender-based violence services, the study indicates that the changes made in health services to address the epidemic, specifically in primary care, meant that health problems unrelated to COVID-19 were left to the background, which made it difficult to detect new cases of GBV and to follow up on those already identified.

Care resources dedicated to specific attention to GBV, such as shelters or women’s associations, had to reorient their assistance towards attention aimed at covering the basic (food, housing, etc.) and emotional needs of their users due to the difficulties in obtaining a response from the corresponding resources, such as Social Services.

According to the professionals of these care resources who participated in the project, the main barriers to providing their services in times of pandemic were related to the difficulty of accessing public administration resources, their rigidity and the complexity of their administrative procedures. However, Vives-Cases stressed that the motivation of these professionals, the links previously established with the women, the previous coordination mechanisms and some specific measures implemented to deal with the situation were the main facilitators.

Among other recommendations, the multidisciplinary team responsible for the study insists that maintaining attention to GBV during crisis situations is a social necessity. Developing interdisciplinary strategies to deal more efficiently with possible future similar crises was a priority, with the necessary human and material resources to be able to deal with these exceptional situations.

These results are part of the report of results and recommendations of the project on gender violence and social and health responses during the crisis by COVID-19′ [VIOGENxCOVID] financed by the Supera Covid-19 CRUE-Santander Funds for the period 2020-2021. 

Further information