WHO Europe: Alcohol Fuels Rising Interpersonal Violence During COVID-19
Reports from violence prevention helplines across the WHO European region are indicating rising cases of interpersonal violence during COVID-19. Alcohol fuels this rise in violence as victims are trapped with their abusers during the pandemic.
Lockdowns and movement restrictions have slowed down the transmission of COVID-19, but in many situations they have also confined those experiencing interpersonal violence with their abusers. Adding alcohol to this mix is fomenting the problem and might often aggravate the situation.
Even from before COVID-19 interpersonal violence was a serious problem. WHO estimates that 1 in 4 women experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime, and 1 in 3 children experience some form of interpersonal violence by parents, caregivers, peers or other family members. Alcohol use is one major factor which has been linked with violence, according to WHO Europe.
Increases in interpersonal violence during times of crisis are well documented. In addition to contributing to increased fear, anxiety, financial stress and alcohol consumption, the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the ability of health and social services to connect with and support victims of violence.
Many violence prevention helplines are reporting an increase in reports of interpersonal violence. For example in the United Kingdom:
- Respect, the national domestic violence charity reports an increase of 97% calls, 185% emails and 581% website visits.
- Calls to Childline, by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, from children reporting physical or emotional violence have increased 36% and 31% respectively.
- 14 women and two children were murdered in the first three weeks of COVID-19 lockdowns, the highest figures in 11 years.
- Engagement with the National Stalking Advocacy Service, Report Harmful Content Hotline and Revenge Porn Helpline has doubled.
- The Australian eSafety Commissioner has reported a 40% increase in cyberbullying.
- Europol has reported disturbing increases in online child sexual abuse and exploitation.
- Data from fifteen large U.S. cities show that the COVID-19 pandemic generated a 10% increase in domestic violence police calls.
- South Africa reported a ‘nightmare’ at hospitals after restarting alcohol sales.
A recent study reports that in Mexico City the COVID pandemic led to an increase in intimate partner violence calls requesting psychological services.
Evidence suggests that during the COVID-19 lockdown, alcohol consumption has increased and income has gone down among several households in Mexico City. The existing literature relates alcohol consumption and negative income shocks to a greater number of occurrences of intimate partner violence,” write the researchers in the study abstract.
Solutions are at hand to reduce violence
Many countries are now implementing solutions using technologies such as online portals and home visitations to try and reach and support those who may be experiencing violence during the COVID-19 lockdown.
For example, in Norway teachers and other child welfare service workers have gone mobile, instigating more direct follow-up measures with known vulnerable children. In France, Germany, Italy, Norway and Spain, pharmacies and supermarkets have become safe spaces where the utterance of a code word (“MASK 19”) signals that urgent protection from a violent partner or cohabitant is required.
Alcohol restrictions should also be considered by governments as a priority measure to reduce interpersonal violence considering the links between alcohol use and violence.
For example, restricting hours, restricting/ banning delivery of alcohol and increasing prices of alcohol through tax or minimum unit prices (MUP) are all evidence based, effective policy solutions to reduce alcohol consumption and resulting harm.
Summarizing violence as “preventable, not inevitable”, Dr Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, emphasized three key actions during his weekly COVID-19 press briefing on May 7, 2020:
- Governments: keep health and social services running;
- Citizens: stay alert to the safety and well-being of those around you;
- Victims of violence: know that violence against you is never your fault – keep in touch with those you trust and who can support you.