London — Nearly three times as many women were killed by men during three weeks of coronavirus lockdown in Britain than the average for the same period over the last decade, according to data compiled by monitoring and advocacy groups. In the three weeks starting March 23, when people were asked to stay in their homes to stop the spread of COVID-19, 14 women were killed by men in the U.K., according to Karen Ingala Smith, who runs Counting Dead Women and is chief executive of Nia, a nonprofit dedicated to ending sexual violence and domestic abuse. That’s the highest number recorded in over ten years.
Data gathered by Counting Dead Women and The Femicide Census show that, on average, 5 women are killed by men between March 23 and April 12 each year. The second highest number of deaths recorded for the same three-week period was in 2009, the first year for which The Femicide Census has data, when 11 women were killed.
Counting Dead Women uses media reports to track the number of women killed by men in the country. It provided data from 2019 and 2020 to CBS News. The Femicide Census uses numbers released by the government in response to Freedom of Information requests. It provided data from 2009 to 2018.
The, Pope Francis and domestic violence services around the globe have issued stark warnings about a potential as victims and survivors are told to stay home or put under quarantine alongside perpetrators.
“A lot of women will be feeling really terrified right now, living in homes where there’s no escape for them,” Fiona Dyer, chief executive of the London-based domestic violence charity Solace, told CBS News.
“Christmas on overdrive”
“It’s not likely that more people are becoming abusive, it’s that those abusive tactics are becoming more prevalent as both perpetrators and abusers are in the house 24/7,” Dwyer told CBS News.
“Perpetrators will probably be stopping women from leaving the house at all, so they won’t even be able to go out to exercise. The perpetrators will be doing the shopping, ensuring that those women are trapped within the house with very limited access to… telephones. What we see quite often is that telephones are smashed and computers are hacked into, and access to things like social media and everything else is often forced to be deleted,” Dwyer said.
Solace saw a 49% increase in calls to its helpline as restrictions were introduced ahead of Britain’s full lockdown in March, and shelters that normally operate with available bed space are now full. However, since the lockdown came into effect on March 23, the number of calls to Solace has decreased.
“It’s essentially Christmas on overdrive,” Dwyer said. “A lot of people stay together for the sake of children at Christmas, for the sake of families staying together over the Christmas period. … We always have an increase in demand for our services post-Christmas.”
Lucy Hadley, campaigns and policy manager at Women’s Aid Federation England, a national charity working to end domestic abuse towards women and children, told CBS News that services across the country are expecting a huge surge in demand once the lockdown is lifted.
“I think it’s really important to make clear that the coronavirus doesn’t cause domestic abuse. It’s exacerbating those existing behaviors within relationships and making access to support and safety harder,” Hadley said.
Adapting to the new reality
Domestic violence services in the U.K. are adapting as best they can to a world in which many victims and survivors can’t escape even for a minute to call for help, and funding is drying up as charity shops are closed and events are cancelled to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“We run a live chat instant messenger service for women that are experiencing domestic abuse. We’ve seen demand for that rise by 41% since the middle of March when the lockdown started,” Hadley told CBS News. “That tells us that women may be struggling to access those normal forms of support and help from police and other statutory agencies, but are seeking help and are wanting support from specialist women’s services like ours.”
At the moment, Women’s Aid is only able to run its chat service two hours per day, but the organization is working to increase those operating hours, Hadley said.
At shelters, increased cleaning and social distancing measures have been introduced. Women and children are being given allotted times to use communal spaces like kitchens. Some frontline staff have even moved into shelters so they can continue to provide support during the lockdown, Dwyer said.
“If you need to escape your home because of an abusive partner and you’re no longer safe to live there, it’s absolutely vital that you can call the police if you’re in an emergency and you know that a safe refuge space is out there,” Hadley said. “Obviously it is more challenging to access during this period because… they are struggling to take new referrals, but that does not mean they’re not.”
“This has been going on forever”
“It’s bad that the number of deaths is higher, but I don’t think the number of extremely abusive, violent men is higher than it was a month ago,” Smith told CBS News.
She launched the Counting Dead Women project in 2012 after learning a woman being supported by the sexual violence and domestic abuse charity she worked for had been killed.
“I just started Googling to find out what had happened to her, because we weren’t told very much when we were told she’d been killed, and what I found was loads of names of women who had been killed in the first few days of that year. So I just started making a list of the names,” she said.
She eventually helped found The Femicide Census, which uses Freedom of Information requests to compile data on women who have been killed by men in the U.K.
“I’m glad people are waking up to the fact that women are living with this, but we’ve got to look at this because we care about women killed by men all the time, not just because we care that it’s higher than usual,” she said.
“This has been going on forever, basically. Men have been killing their partners, and we’re not seeing men who weren’t abusive before coronavirus kill their partners. These are women that have been living with violence for months or years before this.”
If you are a survivor or victim in the U.S. and it is an emergency, dial 911. Other resources include: The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE, or text LOVEIS to 22522. If it is an emergency in the U.K., call the police at 999, or for additional resources in Britain, you can dial the National Domestic Abuse hotline at 0808 2000 247.