THE SHADOW PANDEMIC : Violence against women during COVID-19

The COVID19 crisis phase was particularly difficult for victims of domestic violence, and in particular women and girls who are confronted with situations of abuse. The many confinement measures forced families to live closely together and resulted in increased tensions. In addition, the structures in place to rescue potential victims and the consultation centers were confronted with an increase in the requests for assistance. This shows the importance of a solid social and economic response framework that must be put in place by governments and non-governmental support agencies. 

July 16th, 2020

According to a first estimate, the Grand-Duchy has not experienced a massive increase in domestic violence in Luxembourg. On June 11th, 2020, as Luxembourg slowly moved towards deconfinement, the Minister for Equality between women and men Mme Taina Bofferding presented the numbers related to violence against women in their homes from the months of March to May 2020. 

Luxembourg’s numbers 

As such, in March 2020, 91 police interventions were made, with 26 of these interventions resulting in expulsions of the perpetrator from the family home. This number decreased in April 2020, when only 73 interventions resulted in 19 expulsions. In May 2020, the Minister’s report shows that 23 persons were asked to leave their home for a total number of 79 police interventions. 

Notwithstanding these numbers that may not have dramatically increased due to the COVID-19 related confinement measures, it was essential for the Luxemburgish government to set up measures to ensure efficient and preventive action in cases of domestic violence and allow victims to feel sheltered if in need of help. Such measures included the weekly monitoring of situations previously known to the authorities, the development of the website directly addressed to victims of violence and the setting up of a helpline. 

On July 3rd, 2020 Minister Taina Bofferding also visited reception structures and consultation centers registered with the Ministry for Gender Equality, namely the Maison de la Porte ouverte Foundation (FMPO), the ProFamilia Foundation, Femmes en Détresse asbl (FED) and the National Council for Luxembourg Women (CNFL). The objective of this visit was to get a global image of the social work carried out by organizations and their staff for the benefit of women in situations of distress, especially during times of increased domestic violence.

Throughout the confinement and the progressive phases of deconfinement, the organizations perfectly mastered the situation and were able to continue their activities through on-site and telephone hotlines. Assistance and assistance to potential victims could be guaranteed. This on-site visit is a first step to take stock of the crisis.

UN Women Report 

The existing crisis of violence against women and girls is already showing worrying statistics worldwide, as it is assumed that in the previous twelve months, almost 18 per cent of women and girls between the age of 15 to 49 have experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner. UN Women’s report on this “shadow” pandemic addresses the economic impact of violence against women and formulates several recommendations for governments and affiliated organizations in the fight against violence. 

The report published on April 6th, 2020, recommends governments to allocate additional resources and include evidence-based measures to address violence against women and girls in COVID-19 response plans. The report further underlines the importance of the response-system at the disposal of victims of violence, such as shelters, psychological support centers and helplines. 

In order to act preventively, UN Women equally advocates to put women at the center of policy change, solutions and recovery. The building of capacity of key services to prevent impunity can only be effective if the victims themselves get to be a part of the solution. The collection of data in this regard, as presented by Luxembourg for instance, is an essential element to fully understand the impact of COVID-19 on victims of domestic violence and in the framework of violence against women and girls. This will allow governments and related organizations to structure a comprehensive response. 

* * *

Luxembourg’s government is continuously monitoring the numbers related to domestic violence and has made a first evaluation of the confinement from March to June 2020. This is to be continued in view of a potential second confinement due to the renewed increase in cases, in line with the UN Women’s recommendations.