The onset and spread of COVID-19 have affected nearly every country and continent. Not only has the virus infected, sickened about 190 million people, it killed about 4 million people as it moved from Asia, to Europe, to the US, and onwards to Central and South America.

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization [WH0] declared global emergency over COVID-19 pandemic. Following the WHO declaration, national and local authorities began to impose a range of measures to slow the spread of the virus and alleviate strain on health care systems. Collectively referred to as “lockdown” measures in most countries, regulations have included some combination of stay-at-home orders, travel bans, closures of schools and places of entertainment and restrictions on public and private gatherings. Strategies aimed at limiting the mobility of the entire population through measures that require or recommend that residents do not leave the house except for “essential” activities arguably were among the most intrusive policies, with wide-ranging collateral effects on society, the economy and human rights.

Changes in Crime Due to Lockdown Measures

Wide scale lockdowns throughout the country has seen the emptying of streets and the absence of people from our once busy town centers. With towns and cities empty, the traditional crime types such as robbery, theft, and public order offences have seen a huge decline.

  • In a search of the impact of COVID-19 on retail theft in a city in China, they found that retail theft decreased by over 60 percent but rebounded to a level higher than expected after social restrictions were relaxed. Borrionet al. (2020)
  • In an analysis of a variety of crime types across 16 cities in the United States, they found no serious assaults, decreases in residential burglary, and decreases in theft from vehicles in some cities. Ashby (2020)
  • In research of violence and social disorder crimes in Vancouver, Canada, they found that most crime types decreased. Hodgkinson & Andresen (2020)
  • In the investigation of both conventional crime (domestic violence, burglary, and vehicle theft) and organized crime in Mexico City, it was found that conventional crimes decreased. de la Miyar et al. (2020)
  • In an analysis of violent crime for the State of Queensland, Australia, they found that violence dropped in the early stages of lockdown. Payne et al. (2020)

Many criminologists predict that COVID-19 policies to restrict movement will affect many different crime types in different ways. (Farrell and Tilley 2020)

It is expected that reduced attendance at workplaces will reduce workplace harassment, and that reduced travel on public transport will reduce many types of crimes that occur on such transport or around transport stations. Widespread closure of shops is expected to reduce shoplifting. Increased time spent at home may increase guardianship and surveillance against burglary.

Increase in Domestic Violence Due to Stay-at-Home Orders

However, as victim’s exposure to their offender increases, it could create additional opportunities for other crime types such as domestic violence. (UN 2020)

For instance, increased time spent at home might be expected to increase the opportunities for domestic violence and child abuse to occur. It is because they are often committed by parents or guardians, and potential victims and offenders are spending more time together.

The current measures to address the COVID-19 pandemic such as restrictions on movements, as well as financial instability caused by the crisis, are likely to increase stress, which can cause crimes such as verbal abuse and violence between family members.

  • In China, Equality, which is an NGO dedicated to combating violence against women, has seen a surge in calls to its helpline since early February when the government locked down cities in Hubei Province, then the outbreak’s epicenter.
  • In Spain, the emergency number for domestic violence received 18 percent more calls in the first two weeks of lockdown than in the same period a month earlier.
  • The French police reported a nationwide spike of about 30 percent in domestic violence. French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said he had asked officers to be on the lookout for abuse.
  • India reported double the usual number of domestic abuse cases in the first week of nationwide movement restrictions, according to the country’s National Commission for Women.
  • Australia reported a 75 percent increase in Internet searches relating to support for domestic violence victims.

“Over the past weeks, as the economic and social pressures and fear have grown, we have seen a horrifying surge in domestic violence. We know lockdowns and quarantines are essential to suppressing COVID-19, but they can trap women with abusive partners.”

– United Nations Secretary António Guterres

United Nations Secretary António Guterres addressed the issue of domestic violence within the context of international lockdowns associated with COVID-19. The UN Secretary also urged all governments to make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of their national response plans for COVID-19, including efforts to keep domestic violence shelters open as essential services, setting up emergency warning systems in pharmacies and grocery stores, etc. (United Nations, 2020; United Nations Women, 2020)

In some countries, innovative actions are being taken for preventing domestic violence. In Argentina, for example, pharmacies have been declared safe spaces for victims of abuse to report. Similarly, in France, where grocery stores are housing pop-up-services and 20,000 hotel room nights have been made available to those women who cannot go home.

The Spanish government has told women that they are exempt from the lockdown if they need to leave the home because of abuse; and both Canada and Australia have integrated funding for violence against women as part of their national plans to counter the damaging fall-out from COVID-19.

How to Prevent Domestic Violence: Kind Words

The World Health Organization [WHO] suggested “kind words and actions” as preventive measures against domestic violence caused by the lockdown due to COVID-19.

“Take measures to ensure you manage your stress in a way that is respectful and safe to you and your family. Try to be kind to yourself, your partner, children and anyone else in the family. Demonstrate kindness and patience in your words and actions.”

– World Health Organization [WHO]

When people think about abuse, they often picture a very physical and dramatic scene. However, the words they speak can be abuse or even when they don’t speak, it can be abuse. It is the same at home. You might spit out words easily, but it can change someone’s life, leaving irremovable scars, and can even lead to physical violence. However, our words can solve conflict, comfort our family members, and share warmheartedness and love.

“Words Are More Powerful Than a Sword”

On October 2, 2020, ASEZ launched a global campaign entitled “Words Are More Powerful Than a Sword” for the International Day of Non-Violence. During this campaign which lasted about ten days, about 13,493 people from 81 countries took part, and they resolved not to commit verbal abuse both online and offline. They sent encouraging words or gestures online and offline every day to their acquaintances and to others who may go through difficult times, and posted a screenshot as proof.

On October 11, ASEZ members in Argentina held an online seminar on the topic, “How to Know About Domestic Violence,” to create a society without verbal violence by reducing verbal violence that is indiscriminately and unconsciously committed at home. It was to raise the awareness of the effect of verbal abuse among family members as part of the “Words Are More Powerful Than a Sword,” encouraging citizens who are suffering from COVID-19 pandemic.

In Louisville, KY, U.S., ASEZ members held the ASEZ webinar. More than 230 university students and officials of the University of Louisville discussed about the power and influence of words online.

Discussions and seminars on the importance of words are being carried out all over ASEZ branches. This led to continuous local support for university students, promoting that changing words in our daily life can be a part of the change that has to be made in this world. This is because many people are empathizing with the importance of words.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, “Violence is not confined to the battlefield. Together, we can and must prevent violence everywhere, from war zones to people’s homes, as we work to beat COVID-19.”

In this pandemic, it is time to acknowledge each other in genuine support and care more than ever before. We look forward to the future activities of the young adults who will lead in changing the language and culture of our society against violence in our home and community.