It was on a Monday and Shehu’s principal had just announced that the school would be shut down indefinitely to curtail the spread of COVID-19. Shouts of glee and excitement echoed from his fellow students, but he felt like a rug had been pulled from under his feet. The safe haven that had been school was going to be closed and he would be trapped in that place he had always sought to escape from. How would he cope with the abuse he and his mum faced on a regular basis at home? 

Shehu’s story is one of the many about victims of domestic violence and abuse. In an effort to flatten the curve of COVID-19 transmission, victims of abuse have been trapped at home with their abusers. The lockdowns have seen a significant rise in reported cases of domestic violence around the world as victims are now not only trapped in their homes with their abusers but also isolated from the people and resources that could be of help.

While men experience domestic violence, it is clear that women make up the majority of the victims. According to WHO, 1 in 3 women in the world are victims of sexual and gender-based violence in their lifetime. In simpler terms, every woman alive knows another woman who is a victim of abuse.  Research by the International Rescue Committee showed that during the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, women and girls were “disproportionately affected, leading to both an increase in sexual and domestic violence, as well as a higher infection rate and long term recovery implications.”

During times of crises such as natural disasters, wars and epidemics, there is usually an upsurge in pre-existing gender inequalities, often leading to an increase in harm and risks experienced by women and girls both in the home and community.

In China, the number of reported cases of domestic violence tripled in February compared to the previous year, according to Axios. In Spain, the emergency number for domestic violence received 18% more calls in the first two weeks of lockdown when compared to a month earlier.

Due to the lockdown, it has become even more difficult for victims to seek help as medical facilities scramble to respond to existing and new cases of the coronavirus, while law enforcement agents are engrossed making sure that people stay at home.

For some women, the fear of contracting the coronavirus is preventing them from seeking out medical care after experiencing physical abuse. The economic reality of the coronavirus pandemic has also made it more difficult for women to leave abusive relationships. Often, leaving an abusive partner requires the victim to save money ensuring financial independence. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused businesses to close down and rendered some individuals temporarily unemployed. A victim of domestic abuse who has lost her source of income amidst this situation will most likely not leave her abuser with whom she is financially secure. While the many domestic violence advocates will encourage victims who are not yet in quarantine to seek immediate help, are there strategies in place to ensure that victims will get the help they require? What are the efforts being put in place by the global community to curb the prevalence of domestic violence during this lockdown period?

In addressing the increasing cases of domestic violence amid the coronavirus epidemic, there are innovative measures being employed around the world that should be both lauded and replicated.

In Argentina, pharmacies have been declared safe spaces for victims of abuse to report cases of violence and get medical attention. Similarly in France, 20,000 hotel rooms nights have been made available to women unable to go/stay home.

The Spanish government has exempted women from the lockdown if they need to leave home because of abuse, while Canada and Australia have integrated funding for violence against women as part of their national plans to neuter the damaging consequence of the COVID-19 lockdown.

National governments should make funding provisions and plans for domestic violence shelters, increased support call-in lines, discreet/anonymous text service platforms and online legal support for women and children who are victims of domestic violence, especially during this lockdown period.

In Nigeria, efforts are currently being made by relevant agencies to combat cases of domestic violence during the lockdown. The Women’s Right Advancement & Protection Alternative (WRAPA), in collaboration with Women Advocates Research & Documentation Centre (WARDC) and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) are already taking a great stride in addressing gender-based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic by organizing a webinar to divulge the problem and sensitize victims of the available support systems for domestic violence.

The effects of the current pandemic have rocked virtually every aspect of life. Despite the efforts of various agencies working in the space, not all victims of abuse will get the attention required. Ergo, it is also our individual duty to look out for one another at a time like this. The National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) helpline is available here. The ones who have no voice need you to speak up.

This article was written by Ibukunoluwa Oshinowo, a communications associate at The Cans. The CANs is a development centric innovation hub located in Abuja.