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Home Quarantine: Confinement With the Abuser?

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By Ana Luíza Matos de Oliveira, Lygia Sabbag Fares, Gustavo Vieira da Silva, and Luiza Nassif Pires Even though Covid-19 has already killed thousands worldwide and is paralyzing global economic activity, President Jair Bolsonaro insists on referring to it as a “little flu.” Despite the president’s efforts to avoid a halt to the economic activity in Brazil, the rhythm in the country has slowed down and people who can afford to stay confined at home are doing so. This week, several cities and states implemented mandatory shut downs on non-essential commerce and services. Given this new scenario, with still very uncertain impacts, we would like to raise a concern with a problem that has been reported in other countries: the increase in domestic violence. Studies by the World Health

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by Ana Luíza Matos de Oliveira, Lygia Sabbag Fares, Gustavo Vieira da Silva, and Luiza Nassif Pires

Even though Covid-19 has already killed thousands worldwide and is paralyzing global economic activity, President Jair Bolsonaro insists on referring to it as a “little flu.” Despite the president’s efforts to avoid a halt to the economic activity in Brazil, the rhythm in the country has slowed down and people who can afford to stay confined at home are doing so. This week, several cities and states implemented mandatory shut downs on non-essential commerce and services. Given this new scenario, with still very uncertain impacts, we would like to raise a concern with a problem that has been reported in other countries: the increase in domestic violence.

Studies by the World Health Organization (2018) show that in times of economic crisis the risk of physical and sexual violence increases. In a context of health, economic, and social crisis, “many people feel as though they’re losing control and search for healthy ways to cope. But when an abuser feels powerless, the victim is at risk” (USA Today 2020). Also, a study on violence in Russia (Popova, Otrachshenko and Tavares 2019) shows that violent behavior is more common on weekends, when families interact more.

In the US, lockdowns to slow down Covid-19’s expansion lead to a confinement of people that are victims of domestic violence with their abusers and isolate them from protective resources. In addition, abusers can use the pandemic as a way to further isolate their victims from friends, family, and work. In more extreme cases, “perpetrators are threatening to throw their victims out on the street, so they get sick” (Time Magazine 2020).

In China, there are also reports of dramatic increases in domestic violence during the quarantine period, especially in the Hubei province. The number of cases reported in January at the Jianli police station in Hubei has tripled compared to the same period in the previous year (from 47 cases to 162). According to an activist in the region, during the period “90% of the causes of violence are related to the COVID-19 epidemic.” (Sixth Tone 2020)

Domestic violence and femicide statistics in Brazil are already frightening and growing. According to data from the Center for the Study of Violence at the University of São Paulo (USP) and the Brazilian Forum on Public Security, 1,314 women—one woman every 7 hours on average—were killed in a gender-motivated hate crime in 2019. The number represents a 7.3% surge from the 1,225 cases of femicides reported in 2018 (Globo.com 2020).

To make matters worse, Brazilian government and society are not taking the conoronavirus risks seriously, which can lead to a more severe and widespread epidemic, extending the geographical area and the length of quarantines. So far, the federal government insists on going against the World Health Organization (WHO) and its own health minister guidelines, thus failing to contain the health, economic, and social crisis (Oliveira 2020). The guidelines are clear and need to be followed. It is time to stay at home and reduce social contact—it is also crucial to acknowledge the problem of domestic violence and act to reduce and prevent it. Schools and other community spaces are closed, assistance networks may be reduced due to the lockdown or may be redirected to provide services related to the epidemic. Therefore, access to social workers and medical or psychological assistance is limited. In sum, it is important to expand public services and women’s safety net. An article in The New York Times states that while the resources for victims of domestic abuse during the outbreak are limited, they are encouraged to “seek out shelters, hotlines, therapists and counselors. Where walk-in service is no longer available, phone and digital communications are still working” (The New York Times 2020). Although it can be difficult for those confined with abusers to report or reach out to hotlines, the existence and expansion of virtual resources is fundamental.

Unfortunately, there is already alarming evidence of the correlation between quarantine and domestic violence in Rio de Janeiro. The city, which is only behind the more populous São Paulo in number of Covid-19 cases, reports of domestic violence have already surged by 50% during confinement (G1 2020). As the lockdown expands throughout the country, we worry about how severe this problem will be.

Another impact of the coronavirus, besides leading to an increase in “confinement,” is a rise in the unemployment rate. Financial fragility is also a key element to explain vulnerability to domestic violence, as it imposes more constraints on victims. Without financial resources, women are at greater risk of being abused. In the US, in a poll from March 14th, 21% of female respondents reported a job loss or reduction of hours in their household, versus 16% of male respondents (NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll), indicating that women are more susceptible to job losses due to the current crisis. If such a pattern is also observed in Brazil, the impact of coronavirus on domestic violence could extend beyond the time of quarantine. This crisis would come on top of severe income cuts that have already affected women in the last few years, such as reductions in the “Programa Bolsa Familía” (PBF), a cash transfer program to low income families that has been praised worldwide. PBF has a great impact on women’s financial autonomy, as the vast majority of its beneficiaries are women (Bartholo, Passos and Fontoura 2017). In March 2020, 158,000 families, the majority in the Northeast, were cut out of the program (Carta Capital 2020). PBF financial support offers crucial resources that enable women to leave their abusive partners. The cuts to the program make women more dependent on perpetrators and more vulnerable to abuse.

In addition to expanding the coverage of the PBF, we propose a few other policies that can help mitigate this problem and give support to people in abusive relationships.

  • Create a broad minimum income program that serves the most vulnerable, including many women.
  • Make assistance available virtually, through hotlines.
  • Widely publicize in the media assistance channels for women in situations of violence.
  • Maintain and strengthen programs to monitor and assist domestic violence victims, like social assistance and health services (eg, SUS and SUAS services), without redirecting them to immediately meet the health and economic demands of Covid-19, expanding the understanding of health and well-being beyond the biomedical logic.

We, as civil society, must remain vigilant and maintain contact with relatives and friends. We should observe changes around us, offer support and information, as well as notify authorities when we suspect abusive relationships. But most importantly, we need to keep pressing the government to implement and comply with effective measures to alleviate the coronavirus crises and combat domestic violence.

Lygia Sabbag Fares
Economics assistant professor at School of Administration and Management – STRONG ESAGS

Ana Luíza Matos de Oliveira
Consultant and visiting professor at FLACSO; co-editor of Brasil Debate and WEA Commentaries

Gustavo Vieira da Silva       
PhD candidate in clinical psychology at the University of São Paulo

Luiza Nassif Pires
Research Fellow, Levy Economics Institute

References

World Health Organization. 2018. https://www.who.int/news-room/feature-stories/detail/violence-against-women.

USA Today. 2020. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2020/03/18/coronavirus-domestic-violence-shelters-prepare-hotlines-open/5067349002/.

Popova, Olga, Vladimir Otrachshenko, e José Tavares. 2019. “Extreme Temperature and Extreme Violence across Age and Gender: Evidence from Russia.” Econstor.

Time Magazine. 2020. https://time.com/5803887/coronavirus-domestic-violence-victims/.

Sixth Tone. 2020. https://www.sixthtone.com/news/1005253/domestic-violence-cases-surge-during-covid-19-epidemic.

Globo.com. 2020. https://g1.globo.com/monitor-da-violencia/noticia/2020/03/05/mesmo-com-queda-recorde-de-mortes-de-mulheres-brasil-tem-alta-no-numero-de-feminicidios-em-2019.ghtml.

Oliveira, Ana Luíza Matos de. 2020. https://fpabramo.org.br/2020/03/23/coronacrise-governo-promove-pandemia-social/.

The New York Times. 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/23/opinion/covid-domestic-violence.html.

Bartholo, Letícia, Luana Passos, e Natália Fontoura. 2017. “Bolsa Família, Autonomia Feminina e Equidade de Gênero: o que indicam as pesquisas nacionais?” IPEA.

Carta Capital. 2020. https://www.cartacapital.com.br/sociedade/governo-corta-bolsa-familia-de-158-mil-familias-em-meio-a-crise-do-coronavirus/.

G1. 2020. https://g1.globo.com/rj/rio-de-janeiro/noticia/2020/03/23/casos-de-violencia-domestica-no-rj-crescem-50percent-durante-confinamento.ghtml.

NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll. 2020. http://maristpoll.marist.edu/npr-pbs-newshour-marist-poll-results-coronavirus/#sthash.QbxnINIq.dpbs.

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