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Sexual violence thriving in the pandemic’s shadow

The world has been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic for the last four months. Thus, all efforts are now mainly focusing on surviving the medical side of the battle against the virus. However, while all the resources are poured rightly into the medical field, other important fields such as the crime combating fields are left lacking and marginalized. Therefore, the months following the lockdown witnessed a huge increase in many kinds of violence, especially in sexual violence.

Reasons behind the increase in sex-related violence

The mere existence of sexual violence is clear evidence of our system’s failure. Therefore, since we already live in a lacking system, such incidences will definitely increase during lockdowns. The virus is even forcing many victims to quartine with their abusers. Also, though women are the usual target for this kind of violence, men aren’t excluded.

Moreover, over time, evidence has proved that cases of emergencies like natural disasters tend to increase the rates of sexual violence. For example, during both the Katrina hurricane and its recovery periods, rates of reported sexual assaults increased by 45%. The usual feelings associated with emergencies like stress, fear, and the sense of helplessness play a role in increasing risk factors for the perpetration of sexual violence.

Reported statistics

Even before the global medical emergency, it is no exaggeration to say that only 23% of sexual assaults are reported to the police. Moreover, even though studies proved the increase of sexual violence in cases of emergencies, governments failed to prepare against them during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Although reporting these kinds of assaults is considered a luxury issue and something that is further down on the hierarchy of needs for disaster victims, statistics prove a reported increase in sexual violence. Thus, a Beijing-based NGO dedicated to combating violence against women reported a huge surge of calls since the start of lockdown. In Spain, the emergency number for domestic violence received an 18% increase in calls during the first two weeks of lockdown than it ordinarily does. Moreover, French police have reported a nationwide spike of about 30% in domestic violence. Such violence always includes sexual forms of violence. Furthermore, the Policy Director of the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence reported that 40% of the rape crisis centers increased demand for services since the outbreak.

Hindered efforts in the fight against sexual violence

Even before the virus, sexual crimes are among the most under-reported crimes. Thus, the national lockdown played a key role in further limiting the ability of survivors to report incidents. Therefore, the pandemic helped in widening the already existing barrier manifested in structural, institutional, and socio-cultural forms.

Moreover, the virus is significantly impacting the rule of law. The pandemic is hindering the law enforcement’s capacity, availability, and authority in responding to such incidents. Thus, even when reported, social distancing is hindering the authorities’ work.

Furthermore, the coronavirus is slowing the process of processing report cases as well as deprioritizing services needed by survivors. Such services include shelters, health care services, police, and justice sector services. Thus, the medical, psychosocial, and legal services required to support assault survivors are hugely deteriorated and underequipped.

Lastly, the rational fear of catching the virus adds another barrier to accessing the needed help. Sexual assault survivors will less likely seek services because they are afraid of contracting COVID-19. They fear both infection and the potential risk of transmitting the virus to their families.

How can we help?

There are some things an ordinary person can do to aid those in need, even by a little bit. Reporting these crimes to the authorities can help remove the survivors from their abusive environment. Moreover, donating to organizations specializing in helping sexual and domestic in your country or region assault survivors can save people’s lives. Lastly, connecting the victims with the Survivor Safe Haven or donating for this program will aid them in finding a place to stay in during the quarantine.

The battle to survive the virus doesn’t only depend on the medical field. Many are currently living in a lethal situation while isolated from everyone but their abusers. Thus, we have to help in any way we can.


COVID-19 intensifies the ‘brutal crime’ of sexual violence in conflict  | | UN News. (n.d.). Retrieved June 21, 2020, from https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/06/1066712
Kamenetz, A. (2020, April 28). Child Sexual Abuse Reports Are On The Rise Amid Lockdown Orders. Retrieved June 21, 2020, from https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/04/28/847251985/child-sexual-abuse-reports-are-on-the-rise-amid-lockdown-orders
Taylor Walker, M. (n.d.). A Second, Silent Pandemic: Sexual Violence in the time of COVID-19. Retrieved June 21, 2020, from http://info.primarycare.hms.harvard.edu/blog/sexual-violence-and-covid

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