During its first Covid-19 lockdown in the spring, France saw a steep rise in domestic abuse cases. As the country’s 67 million have now entered a second lockdown, women’s rights groups fear that the isolation will spark a new wave of domestic violence, and have put a number of safety measures in place to try to help victims.
As France on Friday hunkered down for a four-week lockdown in a bid to stem the resurgence of the coronavirus, women’s rights groups immediately sounded the alarm, pointing to the spike in domestic violence cases reported during the country's first lockdown, which occurred from March 17 to May 11.
“We saw women come out of that period very damaged. The lockdown increased tensions [at home] and led to serious acts of violence,” Françoise Brié, the head of France’s National Federation of Solidarity for Women (FNSF), which runs the country's 3919 domestic violence hotline, told FRANCE 24. “Unfortunately we expect this type of violence to increase again. And so we’re building on our experience from this spring and will try to adapt the protective measures should the lockdown be extended.”
As the first wave of Covid-19 raged across Europe and resulted in several countries going into lockdown, the World Health Organization recorded a 60 percent jump in calls to European domestic violence hotlines. In France, the number of calls swelled to 44,235 during the country’s two-month spring lockdown. Compared with 96,000 calls over the full year of 2019, the lockdown tally represented a near 30 percent increase. After the first lockdown concluded, the number of reported cases in France dropped back to more typical levels.
‘Won’t need a form to escape’
Brié said that thanks to the fact that the restrictions of the second lockdown, which went into effect on October 30, have been somewhat relaxed – both schools and help organisations will remain open this time – women “shouldn’t hesitate to flee their homes if they are in danger, to call 3919 or ask for help”, noting that “even though we’re not in a full lockdown, this is never an easy period for women”.
On Friday, women’s rights groups met with French Minister for Gender Equality, Diversity and Equal Opportunities Élisabeth Moreno to discuss the measures put in place to protect domestic abuse victims during the present lockdown. Women fleeing violent situations will not be required to carry a signed form before leaving their homes, and temporary support centres will be available in shopping centres and in more than 20,000 of France’s pharmacies. In the long term, the government has vowed to make these “pharmacy alert centres” permanent.
Police officers and health professionals will also be given guidelines to help “identify and help victims of domestic abuse”. And the time limit for medical abortions will be extended to cover pregancies of up to nine weeks, two weeks longer than usual.
Brié also underscored the need for the government to help fund the country’s emergency response and legal services. During the first lockdown, the number of police home interventions in France rose by a staggering 48 percent, “five times more per day, and per region, than the average”, according to a government report published in July. “We hope that any legal measures will be taken quickly against perpetrators, and that [emergency] protective orders [aimed at restraining an abusive partner from a victim] will be put into place again,” Brié said.
Free Uber rides
Ahead of the present lockdown, the 3919 hotline teamed up with the ride-hailing company Uber, which has promised to provide 2,000 free rides to help transport victims of domestic abuse. Uber has provided the FNSF with ride vouchers which will be distributed among the organisation's network of women’s aid groups. “Transport shouldn’t be an issue if you need to get away. These women can use these vouchers to leave their homes, to file a report with the police, to go to an association, or to visit a doctor,” Brié explained. During France’s first lockdown, Uber provided domestic abuse victims with 1,000 free rides.
But leaving an abusive home can be difficult if a victim doesn’t have a place to stay. The FNSF has therefore linked with private partners to offer hotel accommodation to those who need it. The French government is also expected to provide partial financing, as it did in the spring. “We provided emergency accommodation for more than 80 women in the Paris region during the first lockdown. The challenge lies in the ability to react quickly, because we could have housed even more. We know that, over time, more and more women will come forward and ask us for help. If the lockdown is extended, these types of demands will only increase,” Brié said.
This article is an adaptation of the original in French.