COVID-19 is trapping victims of domestic abuse at home – with fatal consequences

As more countries implement strict lockdown measures to fight the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, many victims of domestic violence are trapped at home with their abusers without access to resources or support systems.

For women and girls around the globe, “violence is not confined to battlefield,” United Nations Chief António Guterres said earlier this month: “The threat looms largest where they should be safest, in their own homes.”

According to the survey of Diyarbakir-based Socio-Political Field Research Center conducted with 1873 women in 23 cities between April 3-8 2020 on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on women, there is a 27,8 percent increase in violence against women in Turkey since the self-quarantine period started.

A 2018 U.N. report, titled “Global Study on Homicide: Gender-Related Killing of Women and Girls”, found that more than 50,000 women were killed by family members and intimate partners annually, “because of their role and status as women,” and mostly inside their own homes.

Conflict and crisis exacerbate vulnerability for women and girls, as evidenced by the surge in domestic violence during the pandemic in various countries. France has seen a 30 percent increase in domestic violence since the country went into lockdown on March 17, while Spain has established a code word, #Mask19, to be used in pharmacies for women to discreetly seek help. China and the United States have also reported significant increases in domestic violence cases since the pandemic took hold. Melek Önder from Turkey’s We Will Stop Femicides Platform told Ahval that their hotline has received a record number of calls since March 11, when Turkey announced its first confirmed COVID-19 case. Police data on crime in Istanbul in March has shown that, while there was an overall decrease in reported crimes, the number of reported domestic violence incidents increased by 38.2 percent compared to the same period last year.

Eighteen of the 21 women killed in Turkey from March 11 to 30 were killed in their homes, the platform’s March report found.

In order to prevent these crimes, the U.N.’s report suggests that “women need access to a comprehensive range of services provided by the police and justice system, health and social services, which need to be coordinated to be effective. Women also need access to specific measures that enable them to leave a violent relationship”. 

Elif Ege, a representative from the Morçatı (Purple Roof) Women’s Shelter Foundation, told Ahval that “the main issue in Turkey is women’s lack of access to public support mechanisms to help protect them from domestic violence”. The state should devise an emergency action plan, and prioritise its implementation, Ege said.

Turkey’s Law 6284 to Protect the Family and Prevent Violence against Women, passed in 2012, gives women important options; such as restraining orders against violent partners or family members, centres for monitoring and prevention of violence, and a widespread nationwide network of women’s shelters.

But these measures have not been fully implemented. For instance, three of the women killed in March are known to have had restraining orders against their murderers.

As activists continue to campaign for effective implementation of the law, they now fear a backlash due to the ongoing health crisis, Önder told Ahval. Onder says “many women calling the domestic violence hotline were unwilling to visit hospitals or refrained from reporting violent incidents to the police for the fear of health risks of coronavirus”. We Will Stop Femicides has released guidelines for women during pandemic lockdowns. has found that many women calling the domestic violence hotline last month were unwilling to visit hospitals because they feared contracting the virus, and some refrained from reporting violent incidents to the police. Campaigning efforts have resulted in Turkish women trusting women’s organisations more than the authorities, Önder said.

Kurdish women’s organisations have called on women to report violence during lockdowns. Spokeswoman for the Free Women’s Movement (TJA) Ayşe Gökkan in a Kurdish language video urged women to speak out, reminding them they are not alone and assuring them of women’s solidarity. 

Gökkan told Ahval that the majority of women’s rights sections in municipalities and civil society organisations focusing on women’s rights have been shut down by the state in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority southeast since 2016, significantly impeding efforts to prevent violence against women. She says “we use social media platforms and Rosa Women’s Association in Diyarbakir to reach out women and urge them to seek help from other women”. According to Amnesty International, 400 NGOs were shut down with the state of emergency decree in 2016 including women’s rights organisations providing shelter for domestic violence survivors.


© Ahval English

The views expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.