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Research brief: What crime and helpline data say about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on reported violence against women and girls

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Introduction

Gender-based violence against women continues to be a significant public health concern and a human rights violation.1 While women and girls are subjected to violence in both the public and private spheres, the latest edition of the Global Study on Homicide, published by UNODC in 2019, showed that the home continues to be the most dangerous place for them.

In a relatively short time span, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has already had a tremendous impact on societies and economies worldwide, affecting almost every aspect of daily life. Since the onset of the pandemic, the idea that the lockdown measures introduced to restrict the spread of COVID-19 have increased gender-based and domestic violence against women and girls has become a common concern, including among United Nations agencies.

Restricted mobility has indeed kept women at home, increasing their risk of victimization by intimate partners or family members.

The aim of this research brief is to provide evidence that improves understanding of the impact of COVID19 on violence against women and girls, by focusing on crime reported to authorities and incidents reported to helplines. The analysis covers data on violence against women and girls collected by UNODC in the first half of 2020 on victims of homicide by intimate partners, on victims of “femicide”, on sexual assault and rape reported to the authorities, and on calls made to helplines supporting victims of crime and women experiencing gender-based violence.
This assessment is based on a limited number of countries and – given the paucity of the data and the heterogeneity of emerging trends – it focuses on illustrative country examples without drawing conclusions on global trends or on the overall global impact of COVID-19 measures on the prevalence and reporting of violence against women. A comprehensive assessment of the overall impact of the pandemic can be made once more data become available on several types of crime that affect women, including lethal violence against women, such as gender-related killing of women and girls, also known as femicide. The hope is that the evidence presented in this brief, although limited, can be used to impartially assess current trends on reported genderbased violence against women and girls and to prioritize both national and international responses.

Lockdown measures can potentially affect violence against women in two conflicting ways: by increasing strain in the home (as women spend more time in isolation with violent partners and family members they are more exposed to domestic violence); and by reducing exposure to crime committed outside the home (as social interaction is reduced, women have 5 For further information, see Eisner, M. and Nivette, A., “Violence and the pandemic, urgent questions for research” (New York, Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, April 2020). Available at www.hfg.org/Violence%20and%20the%20Pandemic.pdf. less exposure to the interpersonal violence that affects them).

The diversity of evidence arising from this research brief and other recent studies that have analysed the impact of COVID-19 on violence against women reflect the evolution of diverse crime trends as predicted in criminological theory. This is because that impact continues to be ambiguous, given that no significant, homogeneous effect on recorded incidents of crime across countries has been identified so far.