An article in ‘The Lancet’ argues that measures adopted by the UK and other countries in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have had the negative effect of triggering:
. . . an impending crisis of domestic violence – gender-based violence and child abuse and neglect, due to movement restrictions, loss of income, isolation, overcrowding, and stress and anxiety, all of which put women and children at a disproportionately increased risk of harm.COVID-19: a public health approach to manage domestic violence is needed’ 08/05/20
The writers argue that the experience and collective history gleaned from previous pandemics (notably Ebola, cholera and Zika virus) should have prepared governments for this; also that the occurrence of domestic violence in those circumstances was worsened by a consequent reduction in funding for specific gender-based violence and reduced access to specialist services for domestic violence survivors.
Already some UK support services such as the National Domestic Abuse Helpline have seen an increase in usage during the present COVID-19 pandemic and a similar hike has occurred in other countries, notably Spain, China and France.
Given the prevalence of domestic violence in the UK before the pandemic, the potential long-term threat to society of a domestic violence rise makes a public health approach to gender-based violence not only advisable but necessary. The NSPCC, Women’s Aid, and Safelives are three support organisations that have produced guidance concerning ways in which survivors can report violence, abuse and neglect and keep themselves safe, including information on remote reporting and support mechanisms. An integrated service approach to prevention is essential and this must include the medical profession and primary care teams, local health protection teams and the urgent implementation of linked datasets between police and health record datasets to identify individuals at risk. By enhancing surveillance, it is likely that there will be an increased opportunity to offer targeted support and interventions.
The WHO advises a four-step strategic public health approach to aid in the prevention of domestic violence, child abuse and neglect during this pandemic (WHO. Joint Leaders’ Statement – Violence against children; a hidden crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020)
APPG Lead Author, Helen Clark said:
The frightening rise in domestic violence could, and should, have been predicted —- had the Government learned from evidence, readily available from the experience of other pandemics. Children at risk now cannot afford to wait.
The WHO’s strategy is clear and sensible.
A public health approach that is properly integrated; involving all relevant services (in addition to the police and criminal justice system) is essential to keep children safe now and into a future beyond COVID-19.