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In countries mired in crises, aid organization sees huge drop in domestic abuse reports — and it's worried

Lockdowns could mean more domestic violence
Lockdowns could mean more domestic violence 03:42

London — There has been a dramatic drop in reported cases of gender-based violence in some crisis- and conflict-torn countries, according to new data from the humanitarian aid organization the International Rescue Committee (IRC). The decline comes as service closures and lockdown measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus make it more difficult for women to access help. The most prevalent form of gender-based violence reported to the IRC is domestic abuse, the rate of which is expected to rise as stay-at-home measures continue.

The IRC runs humanitarian services in dozens of countries, and has so far analyzed client data from seven, Sarah Mosely, the organization's senior technical advisor on women's protection and empowerment, told CBS News. In Tanzania, it received 30% fewer reports of gender-based violence since roughly when the country's measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus began. In Bangladesh, it received 50% fewer reports. In Iraq, the IRC received no reports of gender-based violence for nearly two months.

"As an organization that's worked on this issue of violence against women and girls in humanitarian contexts for over 20 years, that is pretty unprecedented to see such steep declines in reporting, which really speaks to a lack of women and girls ability to access support," Mosely said. "And that does really, really worry us."

Global spike in domestic abuse

There have been spikes in reports of domestic abuse in the U.K. and elsewhere, and the United Nations predicts that, if strict lockdowns continue for six months, 31 million more cases of domestic violence could occur globally.

In some countries where the IRC works, they have received more reports than usual. In Kenya, the IRC has seen a 20% increase in cases since before COVID-19. In El Salvador, they've seen a 70% increase in women seeking help.

"When we see those numbers… the question should be: Why can some women and girls access care in some contexts, and why can't they in others? What's going on? Because we know it's a problem everywhere," Mosely told CBS News.

Cultural norms, literacy and connectivity rates, and whether or not physical services have been forced to shut down as part of coronavirus lockdowns have all contributed to whether the IRC has seen a rise or fall in the number of reports of gender-based violence in different countries, Mosely said. She stressed that the IRC would like to see services for women and girls deemed essential and allowed to continue operating under lockdowns around the world.

"We understand that these (lockdowns) are public health measures and they are trying to contain the rates of transmission, and from a public health perspective, we support that. But there is the reality that when you have such stringent containment measures... those have real-time implications for women and girls' ability to actually get help," she said.

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