A surge in domestic violence: how to protect yourself and where to turn for help during quarantine

A surge in domestic violence: how to protect yourself and where to turn for help during quarantine

As a result of isolation, the number of cases of domestic violence has increased significantly, says expert Alyona Kryvulyak. 

During the period of quarantine due to the COVID-19 coronavirus epidemic, Ukrainians began to turn to domestic violence hotlines more often for help.

Director of the Department of National Hotlines and Social Assistance of the NGO "La Strada-Ukraine" Alyona Kryvulyak  in an interview Glavred spoke about what provokes people to domestic violence and what problems they seek help with, who is most often used for violence, how law enforcement agencies respond to calls from victims, how to protect themselves from uncontrolled aggression and whether the number of cases will decline after the end of the quarantine.

- Ms. Alyono, Ukrainians may suffer from psychological disorders now, due to the quarantine - how critical is this?

- If we talk about cases related to domestic violence and harsh treatment of children, then we see serious indicators - during the quarantine period, the domestic violence prevention hotline received almost 1,300 calls. And taking into account that we have only three consultants on shift at the same time, there are people who simply cannot call us - they simply hear that the lines are busy. Accordingly, there is a probability that this person will not call back. Missed calls during the quarantine period are most likely also related to domestic violence.

If we analyze the general picture, there may be about two thousand appeals indirectly. And this is only for our hotline - we do not know the official statistics of the National Police, which are submitted during the quarantine period. 


- If we use only your numbers, how much has the picture changed compared to the pre-quarantine period?

- If you analyze calls in particular, then this is not such a big increase. But the peculiarity of this period is that consultations have become longer in time. If in the pre-quarantine period, a legal consultation lasted 5-10 minutes, and a psychological consultation lasted 30 minutes, now it is much longer - now they last about an hour, and people who seek legal advice also need a psychological one. We have another option for help - it is not, in principle, new for us, but it has gained relevance during the quarantine period - it is online counseling. We consult via Skype, Facebook Messenger, e-mail and the feedback form on the website. And we see an increase in such appeals, because a large number of women write to us that they cannot call because they are with their husband 24/7 and they are afraid that it might get out of hand.

- What is the most common complaint now?

- The reasons remained the same as before the quarantine. For example, financial problems have always been a risk factor in cases of domestic violence. Today, this factor is also present, but it becomes more acute, especially in those families where only the man works, and the woman does not work, because she is on maternity leave and receives only social assistance for the child. And this is also a big problem now, because the state is not able to fully cover all social benefits. We receive many complaints where women say that they do not have finances, apart from those that are paid for the child, the husband works remotely (and this is reflected in the salary level) or he was asked to go on vacation at his own expense, and accordingly, there is no that live and people begin to eat each other.

Quarantine also had a strong impact on access to help for victims of domestic violence. We have an extremely high number of complaints - this is more than 50 percent of the total number of appeals - to law enforcement agencies. Even before, in the pre-quarantine period, we understood that law enforcement agencies were not working on many things, but today it has become more serious. For example, precinct police officers say that they cannot come, because apparently they do not have the right to enter the house during the quarantine period. Although in fact the National Police says that today the police is the only structure that works constantly and it is it that is obliged to visit families, especially those who are in difficult life circumstances, because all other structures work remotely and social services can visit such families only in extreme cases. Also, people are currently facing the problem that the police do not want to issue an urgent restraining order, appealing to innovations regarding quarantine, saying that the offender cannot be evicted from the premises during such a period, because where will he live then. Although the police are still obliged to issue such orders, because it can minimize already known cases of domestic violence, and prevent new ones.

Death from the coronavirus is absolutely no different from death from domestic violence. Therefore, it cannot be said that the coronavirus is the biggest problem of Ukraine. Yes, this is a significant problem, of course, we have to work with it, but this does not mean that we should turn a blind eye to other problematic moments, including domestic violence.

- By the way, how many cases of domestic violence are there now among those who returned from abroad during the quarantine period?

- I cannot say that this is some colossal trend, because we, in fact, constantly receive appeals from women who suffer from violence at the hands of men who work abroad. It's just that, again, this problem was also aggravated because a large part was obliged to return from earnings.

- If we take into account the appeals that came to you during the quarantine period, has their categorization changed in any way? That is, whether the cases of domestic violence against women have increased, or perhaps they have become more against children, since both parents and children are now at home.

- We are monitoring this trend at both hotlines, because in the vast majority of cases of domestic violence against children, we mostly take them to the children's hotline. I can say that about 40 percent of all appeals that come to this hotline are those related to violence against children by parents, guardians or close relatives with whom the child lives. If we talk about appeals to the national hotline for the prevention of domestic violence, human trafficking and gender discrimination, about 95 percent of appeals are those related to domestic violence and 90 percent of them are about women. Since we are members of the international association Women against Violence, we see that this trend is also being followed in many European countries.

- In such a case, when the quarantine was extended until April 24 and there is an opinion that it can be extended even further, how critical can the situation with domestic violence become? Is there an upward trend and is a decline possible after the end of the quarantine?

- Most likely, cases of domestic violence will increase during the quarantine period. Because there is a big problem due to the fact that people are together 24/7 and, accordingly, everyone has their own emotions, stressful situations, everyone has their own mood, and people do not have the opportunity to distract themselves and spill this negativity somewhere, and therefore they will spill it on the nearest people - those with whom they live. And here, it is very important for operative, high-quality intervention and response of law enforcement agencies, so that they understand that they have to protect the rights and interests of the victims. After the quarantine, cases of domestic violence may become more hidden again, because we live in a stereotypical country and not blaming people for problems is the main tendency that we have been living with for more than one generation. Therefore, both the victims themselves and many state structures will turn a blind eye to this. 

- What do you advise those people who are forced to stay in their homes alone with the abuser to do in order to at least somehow ease their situation and minimize the risks?

- In general, despite the fact that people are constantly in the same room, each member of the family should have their own time. It is absolutely normal when during the day you find a few hours for yourself. It is easier for those who work remotely in this regard, because it diverts them from the daily family routine to other activities. That is, first of all, you need to provide yourself with activities that you can do at home - physical exercises, anything that will help you change your mind. You can also engage in self-development or something that calms you down - taking care of pets, playing with your child, etc. If a case of domestic violence did occur, it is necessary to contact the law enforcement authorities - call 102 or the district police officer. If the police come and say that these are your family matters, today you quarrel, tomorrow you will make up - you must take this information into account. That is, clarify who exactly came, badge number, contact information in order to file a complaint against law enforcement agencies that arrived on a domestic violence call and did not respond appropriately. We are now promptly collecting this data, handing it over to the responsible person and, as practice shows, the police reacts more effectively after the "recovery" from Kyiv.

By the way, during the quarantine period, men started calling us for psychological support. They say that when you are constantly in a closed room, they have nowhere to spew negativity and are ready to consult a psychologist. There are not many such appeals, but it is still a certain step to minimize domestic violence and for the offender to reconsider his behavior.