Russia’s domestic violence reports more than double amid COVID-19 lockdown: official

Reported domestic violence cases in Russia more than doubled during the country’s coronavirus lockdown, the human rights ombudswoman said Tuesday, painting a completely different picture than that provided by police data.

Complaints and reports made to Russian non-governmental organizations spiked from roughly 6,000 in March to more than 13,000 in April, Tatyana Moskalkova said. “The picture is rather non-optimistic,” the RIA Novosti news agency quoted her as saying.

Her statement comes a week after Russian police said the number of domestic crimes fell by 13% during the lockdown, compared to the same month last year — a report dismissed by some women’s rights campaigners as inaccurate, as many victims don’t report domestic abuse to the police.

Growing numbers of domestic abuse complaints have been reported all across Europe after governments instituted lockdowns and ordered residents to stay at home, as the frustrations of enforced isolation, often fueled by increased use of alcohol and dire economic straits, aggravated existing tensions or triggered new ones. Women and children are usually the victims.

In Spain, calls to a domestic violence helpline increased by 60% in April compared with the same month last year, the Equality Ministry said Tuesday. The number of calls was up 38% from March, when in the middle of the month the government ordered a lockdown.

Lawmakers in the UK found that calls to a national domestic abuse helpline jumped by 49% in early April compared to the average in the same period in previous years. France’s National Federation of Women Solidarity said the hotline they run has received double to triple the usual daily number of calls since France imposed a lockdown on March 17. In Greece, where the lockdown started March 23, a government helpline received nearly four times as many complaints in April as in March.

In many countries, government officials are taking steps to address the problem.

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The French government introduced a text messaging number and a Twitter account victims can reach out to in addition to the usual police number. Moreover, authorities tasked pharmacies and a number of chain supermarkets to arrange points of contact for domestic abuse victims. Britain pledged 76 million pounds ($95 million) to help vulnerable children and victims of domestic violence.

Attempts to pass a long-anticipated domestic violence law stalled last year amid push back from conservative groups and the Kremlin’s efforts this year to fast-track a constitutional reform that would allow President Vladimir Putin to stay in power until 2036.

Existing legislation outlines punishment for abusers, but doesn’t protect the victims, women’s rights lawyers who worked on the bill last year explained to the AP. There is no such thing as a restraining order, shelters are scarce – roughly 200 in a country of 146 million – and police almost never detain domestic abusers for more than several hours.

“An investigation of your complaint can take months, and during those months you are absolutely helpless,” said Mari Davtyan, a women’s rights advocate specializing in domestic abuse cases.

Being confined to the home victims share with their abusers makes the situation worse, women’s rights campaigner Alyona Popova told the AP.

“Victims are scared. They share ownership of the property with (their) aggressor and stay together in isolation at the same apartment with children. The apartments are usually small so it’s impossible to be isolated from each other,” she said.

Furthermore, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get police to respond to domestic violence calls, according to Bulat Mukhmedzhanov of the Zone of Rights legal aid group.

Even before the epidemic, they rarely took family conflicts seriously, and now that all their resources are thrown at enforcing the lockdown there is little hope that they would help. “The informal response would probably be that we have enough problems as it is,” Mukhmedzhanov told the AP.

Associated Press writers Elaine Ganley in Paris, Sylvia Hui in London and Barry Hatton in Lisbon contributed to this report.

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