Stay-at-home measures and domestic violence amid the Covid-19 crisis

dogbod2020, blog

Sign saying home safe home
by Morena Tartari

Media attention has picked up on the risk of an increase in domestic violence in conditions of lockdown under the Covid-19 emergency. It is obvious that being confined to the home with an abusive partner is likely to have dramatic affects on the everyday life of women in this situation. For obvious reasons, direct evidence of their experiences is very limited but reports are coming from third sector and professional organisations whose job it is to provide help and support. As an Italian national with an interest in comparative studies, I have been paying particular attention to evidence from charities and associations who provide help to women and mothers in Italy and Spain.

In Italy, where the Covid-19 crisis started last February, D.i.Re [1], the national network of the centres for women victims of domestic violence reported that domestic violence against women had tripled in recent weeks [2]. From March 2nd to April 5th eighty centres were contacted by 2.867 women. Among them, 806 women (28%) had contacted a centre for the first time. Requests for support had increased by 74.5% when compared to the monthly average recorded in the last survey in 2018. Centres have also intensified online support and focused their campaigns, suggesting to women to call the centre when they go outside for essential food, health, and work reasons.

My current research project [7] does not concern directly domestic violence, but a substantial number of women I interviewed in Italy last December were victims of abusive relationships. These interviews highlight a disjuncture between the everyday reality of these women, their concrete needs of protection for themselves and their children and the possibilities offered by law and judiciary procedures. Since these interviews were conducted before the Covid-19 pandemic, it is realistic to think that the condition of women at risk in forced isolation requires particular attention from authorities.

In Spain, according to the Delegación del Gobierno contra la Violencia de Género [4] (the Spanish government delegation against gender-based violence), from the lockdown’s starting date calls for help by women increased by 12.4% in the first two weeks (if compared with data from 2019), while online consultations to the helpline’s website increased by 270%.

Local authorities have attempted to counter the phenomenon with creative methods. One such initiative enables women to go to their pharmacy and request a ‘Mascarilla 19’ (a face mask no 19) [5] [6]. This rescue code for victims of domestic violence alerts the pharmacist who should contact the authorities. This initiative started in the Canarias Islands, but the local authorities of other Spanish regions are looking for adopting this strategy. The need to use a code (the mask no 19) and a medium (the pharmacist) to alert the authorities indicates both the difficulty of interacting with people outside their families and the stigma related to the condition of being a victim of domestic violence. Strategies adopted by the French helplines have similar characteristics.

Forced physical and social isolation seems to have determined an international emergency due to domestic violence, starting with the first lockdown in China, last January, where the hashtag #AntiDomesticViolenceDuringEpidemic (translated from Chinese to the English language) trended on Twitter [7]. The UN Women has drawn attention to how domestic violence during the Covid-19 crisis can be compared with an increasing shadow pandemic [8].

About the Author

Morena Tartari is a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Research Fellow (MSCA-IF), at the University of Antwerp who is in Edinburgh as a visiting Research Fellow at the School of Social and Political Science, The University of Edinburgh.

This is one of a small number of posts by postgraduate students participating in discussion sparked by Lynn Jamieson’s sociology class on Intimate Relationships.


[1] Donne in Rete contro la violenza
[2] Donne in Rete contro la violenza, April 2020 – 2867 women turned to DiRe anti-violence centers during the lockdown
[3] STRESS-Mums project and Study on Transition and Exclusion in Society of Single-Mums
[5] (link no longer valid)
[6] March 2020, “Mask 19”, the cry for help of battered women in the pharmacy MagasIN, Mascarilla19
[7] Lara Owen, March 2020, Coronavirus: Five ways virus upheaval is hitting women in Asia, BBC News
[8] Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka, April 2020, Violence against women and girls: the shadow pandemic

Some online resources giving sources of help in Scotland

Scottish Women’s Aid
Edinburgh Women’s Aid
Scottish Women’s Rights Centre
Zero Tolerance
Shakti Edinburgh
The Scottish Government Guide: Domestic Abuse

The national UK helpline

This guide by Dr Alison Gregory makes suggestions about how to start the conversation if you suspect somebody you know is in a domestic situation where they are at risk.