When #stayinghome does not mean #beingsafe…
While domestic violence is on the rise during COVID-19 crisis, specific circumstances under the lockdown require increased alertness and immediate response to the risks related to the presence of firearms in domestic violence context.
"Many women under lockdown for COVID19 face violence where they should be safest: in their own homes. Today I appeal for peace in homes around the world. I urge all governments to put women’s safety first as they respond to the pandemic."
António Guterres, UN Secretary-General
Available data raises concerns of worldwide upsurge in domestic violence since the outbreak of COVID-19 and provides evidence on additional harm that women and girls living in abusive relationships are exposed to during the ongoing crisis.
Several specific factors linked to COVID-19 exacerbate risks for women exposed to domestic violence:
1. The lockdown and restrictions of movement imposed as a response to pandemic, lead to women being isolated and trapped in their homes with an abuser, which significantly increases the danger of violence, both in terms of frequency and severity;
2. Isolation and the presence of the abuser at home often make it very difficult, and often also probably impossible, for women to report violence or seek help (for instance call the police or SOS helplines). These further suggest that the increase in violence against women and girls is significantly higher than reported. In order to facilitate violence reporting and help women access services, specific strategies have been employed in some countries. In France, for instance, women are using code words at pharmacies to escape domestic violence, while in Italy an app has been launched that allows women to ask for help from the police without making a phone call.
3. Pressure on social services, including increased burden of health care system or police, can significantly affect accessibility of critical services for women experiencing violence. It is therefore crucial to ensure that support to women is available, including through helplines.
In order to effectively address domestic violence, it is recommended (by UN Women, COVID-19 and Ending Violence Against Women and Girls) to:
Allocate additional resources and include evidence-based measures to address violence against women and girls in COVID-19 national response plans;
Strengthen services for women who experience violence during COVID-19;
Build capacity of key services to prevent impunity and improve quality of response;
Put women at the centre of policy change, solutions and recovery;
Ensure sex-disaggregated data is collected to understand the impact of COVID-19 on violence against women and girls and inform the response.
The presence of a firearm at home exacerbates the situation further as it can be used or perceived as a means of threat, but which rarely ends up in official statistics. While data on the prevalence of domestic violence in South East Europe during COVID-19 outbreak is not available at the moment, through our EU supported Armed Violence Monitoring Platform, 8 domestic or family violence incidents involving use of firearms were reported from the beginning of March, during which most of the authorities in Southeast Europe initiated their lockdown measures. This does not constitute an increase of reported cases in relation to previous months but considering that the quarantine and physical presence of the abuser at home makes it difficult for women to report violence or threat of the use of firearms, the number is very likely to be higher. Specific circumstances under the lockdown require increased alertness and immediate response to the risks related to the presence of firearms in domestic violence context.
Towards ending use of firearms in the context of Domestic Violence
Working to reduce misuse of firearms in domestic violence, UNDP Serbia is actively trying to address specific risks which have occurred during the COVID-19 crisis and ensure that response domestic violence fully takes into account the new reality. For instance within the project Reduce Risk-Increase Safety-Towards ending SALW use in the Context of Domestic Violence funded by the German Federal Foreign Office within the implementation of the Western Balkans SALW Control Roadmap, special attention will be given to addressing domestic violence cases and conducting a risk assessment during the emergency. In addition, UNDP Serbia is engaged in development of an on-line training for prosecutors and judges, which would take into consideration specific risks related to the pandemic outbreak.
 The Armed Violence Monitoring Platform (AVMP) monitors firearms-related incidents happening since 2014 from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo*, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia.
* Reference to Kosovo shall be understood in the context of the Security Council resolution 1244 (1999).
Find out more about linkages between firearms and domestic violence: