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As lockdown continues, concern rises about impact of domestic abuse

Photo by Cristina Cavilla

by Priya Gulraj and agencies

There has been no marked increase in the number of reports of domestic violence in Gibraltar since the lockdown rules were put into place, the Royal Gibraltar Police confirmed yesterday, even as charities here and around the world warned that confinement could lead to a surge in such offences.

Yesterday the UN General Secretary, Antonio Guterres, called on governments to take urgent measures to tackle a “horrifying global surge” in domestic violence fuelled by worldwide lockdowns to curb the spread of coronavirus.

He said measures to tackle domestic violence should form part of all governments’ response to the Covid-19 crisis.

For now at least, there is no evidence of such a surge in Gibraltar, where the RGP said it had not seen a “marked increase in domestic abuse reports” since lockdown measures were implemented over three weeks ago.

A spokesman for the RGP said: “We continue to monitor the situation and as has always been the case, we will take positive action when required in order to deal robustly with any form of domestic abuse identified and bring offenders to justice.”

Last month - which included the early stage of lockdown - 47 incidents of domestic violence were reported to the Royal Gibraltar Police and 12 arrests were made.

In comparison to the previous two months, 33 incidents were reported in February and six people were arrested, while 46 reports were made in January and 13 arrests were carried out.

In almost half of the call outs, no criminal offence was found to have been committed, the RGP data showed.
“There are no circumstances where domestic abuse is acceptable,” the police spokesman said.

“Given the current Stay Home advice as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak, the Royal Gibraltar Police and in particular our Safeguarding Unit are very closely monitoring any reports received, in order to offer additional support to victims during these challenging times.”

“Despite the additional demands placed on our officers at present, we continue to provide a normal service to the public, regardless of the type of crime reported, and victims of domestic abuse should feel confident in coming forward and not feel further isolated at home with an abuser.”

“Neighbours, family and friends also have a role to play and if they know abuse or violence is taking place, they should be protecting the victim and also reporting.” “The RGP works very closely with partner agencies to provide the necessary support to any victim of domestic abuse.”

This was also the advice of local charity, Never Alone: Domestic Abuse Support Gibraltar, which urges victims to contact someone they trust.

“Even though we all have that shame and embarrassment with regards to domestic abuse, now is the time, especially when people need to talk about what is going in their lives,” a spokeswoman for the charity said.

“Without divulging all the details, let someone know that you are going to be isolated and you are going to be afraid for your mental and physical health without actually saying that you are subjected to abuse.”

“It is important that a victim informs somebody that they are going to be stuck in a room or in a house with somebody who will inflict them with pain.”

The charity suggests keeping some belongings, including clothing or personal documents, at someone else’s home if the person ever feels like they need to make a quick getaway.

“This is useful because you are able to pick yourself up and your children without having to worry about it because you know you have sorted yourself out,” a spokeswoman for Never Alone said.

Those concerned are also advised to have a list of emergency contact numbers to be able to contact “at a drop of a hat”, and the charity suggests getting a second mobile phone just in case.

“No victim, survivor or member of the public should not think that this does not happen in Gibraltar, especially at a time like now when people are being told to stay at home,” the spokeswoman added, fearing that numbers are going to rise.

“This is the perfect opportunity for someone to have absolute control over somebody else and to isolate them even further.”

“Don’t be so ignorant to think that this does not happen in Gibraltar and please don’t think that this will not lead to death or even worse.”

The local advice comes as calls to helplines in some countries doubled or tripled amid increasing social and economic strains compounded by strict limits on movement, which have left many women isolated at home with abusive partners.

The UN’s Mr Guterres called for all governments to make preventing violence against women a key part of their national response plans for Covid-19, which has killed more than 70,000 people.

"For many women and girls, the threat (of violence) looms largest where they should be safest: in their own homes," the U.N. secretary general said in a video.

Mr Guterres called on governments to create safe ways for women to seek support without alerting their abusers, including by setting up emergency warning systems in pharmacies and groceries - among the few places people are still allowed to visit.

Shelters for abuse victims should be declared essential services and investment boosted in online services and civil society organisations supporting victims, he added.

Calls to helplines have tripled in China and doubled in Lebanon and Malaysia compared with the same time last year, the United Nations said.

In Europe, there have been reports of domestic violence killings in Britain, France, Spain and Italy since lockdowns came into force.

Britain's national domestic abuse helpline said on Monday it had seen a 25% increase in calls and website hits had more than doubled.

France said last week that reports of domestic abuse to police had soared by 36% in Paris and 32% elsewhere after its restrictions came into force.

With courts shut in many places, Mr Guterres said countries must ensure that abusers are still brought to justice.

The response to the rise in domestic violence has been complicated by the fact that police and health services are already under huge strain from the demands of dealing with the pandemic, he said.

Many domestic abuse shelters are already full, while others are barring new victims for fear of spreading the virus.

France has announced it will pay for hotel rooms for abuse victims, open pop-up counselling centres in or near supermarkets and provide an extra one million euros ($1.1 million) to anti-domestic abuse organisations.

Spain and France have both introduced initiatives to encourage women to report abuse in pharmacies. In parts of Spain women can request a "Mask 19", a code word that will alert the pharmacist to contact the authorities.

Worldwide, a third of women suffer some form of violence in their lives, according to U.N. data.

Violence against women is as serious a cause of death and incapacity among women of reproductive age as cancer, and a greater cause of poor health than traffic accidents and malaria combined, the United Nations said.

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