In countries across the world, lockdowns to contain the coronavirus led to spikes in domestic violence reports. We don’t yet have EU-wide data, but some countries have provided initial figures.
For example, France saw a 32 % jump in domestic violence reports in just over a week. Lithuania observed 20 % more domestic violence reports over a three-week lockdown period than over the same period in 2019.
Lockdowns made it more difficult for victims of intimate partner violence to find help. Formal support services were sometimes closed or operating at reduced capacity. Family, friends and neighbours were often more remote and less likely to spot signs of abuse.
EIGE’s research found that while every country in the EU introduced special measures to protect women from intimate partner violence, support for victims was often patchy. Support service faced staff faced several challenges, including:
- Increased demand and heightened distress of victims
- Accessing personal protective equipment
- Quickly having to adapt to remote support and concerns around victim confidentiality
- Assessing victim’s level of risk and maintaining contact without meeting face to face
- Maintaining work-life boundaries and managing increasing levels of strain
Positive action taken by EU Member States includes:
- National action plans, with Ireland, Spain and Lithuania launching national action plans to eradicate intimate partner violence during the pandemic. This strengthened coordination among the domestic health, police and justice services, with Ireland also powering its action plan to the tune of €160,000.
- Legislation, with several countries adopting legislation to declare shelters and hotlines “essential services” to keep them accessible and Estonia, Slovakia and France introducing legislation obliging governments to provide women facing violence at home with alternative accommodation.
- Awareness raising campaigns, with almost every EU country rolling out awareness raising campaigns to let victims know about the help available.
Despite these positive examples, no EU Member State had a disaster plan in place to deal with the increased risk of gender-based violence during a pandemic. This lack of strategic planning, coupled with persistent under-funding of support services, exposed overall shaky support systems for victims of gender-based violence.
What policymakers need to know
- Women face the greatest danger from people they know. Globally, 58 % of women who are killed die at the hands of an intimate partner or family member.  In the EU, more than a fifth of women have been physically or sexually abused by an intimate partner. 
- Previous research on pandemics and natural disasters clearly shows that the prevalence and severity of gender-based violence is exacerbated in times of crisis.
- The economic downturn as a result of the pandemic can elevate the risk of intimate partner violence, with research finding that increases in women’s unemployment can correlate with increases in domestic violence.
- EU member states must implement risk management measures to ensure the police, justice and health sectors are coordinated and vulnerable women do not fall through the cracks.
- Data collection on violence against women should be harmonised between EU member states to ensure the phenomenon can be adequately measured and addressed. This would help identify changing patterns of violence in crisis times and beyond, which would enable governments to take a proactive approach.
For more information
 UNODC (2019), Global study on homicide: Gender-related killing of women and girls
 FRA (2014), Violence against women: an EU-wide survey. Main results report