Almost one year into a situation of more or less lockdown, the victims of domestic violence no longer see a way out of their predicament, according to Jean-Louis Simoens, coordinator of one of the helplines open to victims.
Calls to the helpline Écoute Violences Conjugales has seen the number of calls it receives go down over the period of the epidemic, although they remain twice as high as during the period prior to the virus.
The lockdown of last March came for the victims of domestic violence, and those who work to protect them, with the sound of a cell-door slamming shut.
“We were warned that confinement would be a chaotic and fragile situation for women victims of domestic violence,” Simoens said. “We had 15 days to prepare.”
The number of calls to the helpline trebled in the first lockdown. Not only did the phenomenon itself increase as social life closed down and people were forced back onto their domestic situation, but efforts were made to publicise the existence of helplines, which led to an increase in the number of calls.
“The confinement acted as an awakening to the reality of violence,” Simoens said. “March and April 2020 were like an electric shock.”
One surprising change was that one-third of all calls to the helpline came from third parties – friends, family of colleagues of victims. At the same time, the fact that abusers had little opportunity to go outside the home meant that the women victims of abuse had less chance to use the helpline. That led Écoute Violences Conjugales to set up an online chatline, a more discreet way for women to make contact even in the presence of their abuser.
Now, as the restrictions continue, albeit less strict than before, the victims of violence see less and less of a way out of their situation, Simoens said. The social bubble remains as restrictive as ever, people continue to be working from home or on temporary unemployment, pubs and bars – a social safety-valve for some, an exacerbation for others – remain closed. And even with a vaccination campaign of fits and starts, the situation seems a long way from reaching an end.
“Social ties are present at a minimum, and we are faced with a mixture between the reality before confinement and situations of great despair,” Simoens said.