The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday that it is “deeply troubled” by reports that calls to European domestic violence hotlines spiked by as much as 60% in April.
The health agency said that lockdown introduced to curb the spread of COVID-19 have exacerbated the issue.
“The past month of restrictive measures and lockdowns have understandably bred stress and anxiety. Social networks are disrupted, and insecurity and financial strains with jobs in jeopardy. For many, uncertainty, separation, and fear are part of daily life,” Who Europe said in a statement.
“WHO is deeply troubled by the reports from many countries, including Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Ireland, Russian Federation, Spain, UK, and others of increases in interpersonal violence – including violence against women and men, by an intimate partner and against children – because of the COVID-19 response,” it added.
According to the “scarce” data it has received, emergency calls by women subjected to violence by their intimate partners jumped 60% across European member states in April, compared to the same period last year.
Meanwhile, online enquiries to violence prevention support hotlines have increased up to five times.
It also flagged that the UN’s Population Fund (UNFPA) has estimated that should lockdown continue for six months, an extra 31 million cases of gender-based violence were to be expected globally.
“Beyond the figures, only a fraction of cases is ever reported,” it stressed.
Who Europe called on governments to ensure that services to address violence are available and resourced, and to expand hotlines and online services.
“Before the pandemic, in the European Region, one in four women, and one in three children had experienced physical and/ or sexual violence in their lifetime. This is unacceptable. Evidence shows that interpersonal violence tends to increase during every type of emergency. This requires our urgent action,” it went on.
“With job losses, rising alcohol-based harm and drug use, stress and fear, the legacy of this pandemic could haunt us for years. So much related to COVID-19 has been unparalleled and is outside our control and understanding. But with solidarity we can prevent violence from blighting the lives of generations,” it added.
French authorities have relied on pharmacies — among the few shops still opened during the lockdown — to help victims of domestic abuse who could raise the alarm by using a code word. Pharmacists would then alert the police.
A similar system was also deployed in Spain.