COVID-19 lockdown provoking surge in domestic violence in Lebanon

NGOs are running 24-hour hotlines and providing support over the phone or via internet communication platforms.
Tuesday 21/04/2020
Banners hang from the balconies of a building, carrying messages against domestic violence, in the Lebanese capital Beirut, during a campaign dubbed #LockdownNotLockup, launched by the local association ABAAD, April 16. (AFP)
Banners hang from the balconies of a building, carrying messages against domestic violence, in the Lebanese capital Beirut, during a campaign dubbed #LockdownNotLockup, launched by the local association ABAAD, April 16. (AFP)

BEIRUT--Under the COVID-19 lockdown, homes are supposed to be safe places, but for many women in Lebanon who are shut inside with abusive partners or family members, “home” is a dangerous place to be.

Ghida Anani, the director of Abaad Resource Centre for Gender Equality, says cases of domestic abuse in Lebanon have increased considerably amid the nationwide lockdown that has compounded the effects of the country's worst-ever economic and financial crisis.

“We observed a 20% increase in calls to our hotline and in the number of women seeking safe sheltering in March. Calls to an ISF domestic abuse hotline have also doubled – from 44 in March 2019 to 88 in March of this year,” Anani said.

“However, we believe that the data we have does not reflect the real situation. Many women avoid reporting physical abuse, except in cases of life threats, because they think public health safety is top priority these days.

“Others lack the privacy they need in order to report violence against them or are short of cash to be able to move out. Some women even do not know that our services are available despite the lockdown. All these factors are hampering women and holding them back from reporting abuse,” Anani said.

Two cases of alleged domestic violence made national headlines this month. In early April, two young Lebanese women, one of whom was a minor, were hurt after they resorted to jumping from their second-story home to flee abusive conditions.

On April 6, a six-year-old Syrian girl died after being severely beaten by her father who was later arrested by the country's Internal Security Forces.

Anani said the devastating economic impact of the health crisis are "among the factors escalating domestic violence."

Over the last year, thousands in Lebanon lost their jobs or had their salaries slashed, while businesses closed and the currency depreciated by almost 50%. Then the pandemic struck.

“The difficult living conditions which have worsened with the lockdown are definitely among the factors escalating domestic violence," Anani said. "Uncertainty, anxiety and pressure in addition to helplessness increase men’s guilt feeling towards their families and those who have pre-disposition to lose temper or control can easily slip into violence."

“A nationwide closure of courthouses also prevents survivors of domestic abuse from seeking justice or protecting themselves from perpetrators,” she added.

On April 16, Attorney General Ghassan Aouidat started procedures to prosecute cases relating to domestic violence under the lockdown.

Under the procedures, judicial police were requested to open immediate records of all cases of domestic violence, even those without witnesses. The victim was not required to be present at the police station for testimony in case of health hazards, and could testify via video call.

COVID-19 MENA, a consumer sentiment tracker by IPSOS, also found that domestic violence against women has been on the rise in Lebanon since the lockdown. Ten percent of people surveyed observed an increase in harassment, violence and abuse against women and girls since the pandemic outbreak. Additionally, 37% of women and girls surveyed reported feeling less safe since the lockdown started.

Abaad and other NGOs are meanwhile continuing to run 24-hour hotlines and provide support over the phone or via internet communication platforms like Skype.

“We have adapted to the unusual situation to ensure continuity of our services through remote case management,” Anani said.

“While we are almost at full capacity in our shelters, every week we have at least six women on average asking for safe sheltering. Most of the victims come from disadvantaged and refugee communities. They have no other alternative places to go to and they are in a life-threatening situation,” she added.

KAFA, another NGO dealing with victims of domestic violence, also reported an increase in cases. It said more women than ever before are reaching out to them via text or social media as they try to avoid being caught by their abusers.

An estimated 58% of female murder victims around the world are killed by an intimate partner or family member, according to the UN.

Anani underlined the need for urgent and serious action by the government to address the economic dimension of the problem.

"The increase in figures is striking and shows this is a serious problem that needs fast intervention. Domestic violence is a public health issue as important as the pandemic we are experiencing at present,” Anani said.

As of April 21, there were 677 confirmed coronavirus cases and 21 deaths reported in Lebanon.