London — Six months of lockdowns to prevent the spread of COVID-19 could lead to 31 million additional cases of domestic violence globally, the United Nations warned Tuesday.
"It is a growing crisis within the crisis. We need to pay maximum attention to this now," Dr. Ramiz Alakbarov, deputy director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN's sexual and reproductive health agency, told CBS News.
In a paper using data from Johns Hopkins University, Avenir Health, and Victoria University in Australia, the UNFPA predicted that if strict lockdowns continue for a year, there will be an additional 61 million cases of domestic abuse above what would have already been expected to occur.
"It's truly disturbing. And if we don't do anything about it — if we don't talk about it, if we don't ring the alarm bell — every three months there will be an additional 15 million cases," Alakbarov said.
Governments and activists around the world have been responding to spikes in domestic violence as stay-at-home measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 force victims and survivors to self-isolate with their abusers.
In Britain, London's Metropolitan Police said it had carried out over 4,000 domestic abuse arrests in the first six weeks of the country's lockdown, and that calls relating to domestic abuse had risen by about a third. A U.K. domestic abuse hotline said it wassince social distancing measures came into effect. British lawmakers urged the government to come up with a plan to address the issue.
"Action is needed during the COVID-19 crisis — both during lockdowns and after them — to prevent and tackle abuse and to support victims, otherwise families and communities will be dealing with those serious consequences for many years," a report by members of Britain's parliament published Monday said.
The human rights group Amnesty International also urged government action on the U.K.'s "domestic abuse emergency." In a statement released Monday, Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International U.K., called for extra funding to be made available.
"With every day that passes, more and more women are falling victim to this horrific crime," she said.
"Violence at home is on the rise"
Alakbarov said that measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus should not be used as an excuse to cut back on services for women who are abused around the world, explaining that lockdown measures were both contributing to increased levels of violence and curtailing women's ability to access to help.
"This is a universal phenomenon which is happening. So let's pay attention... Let's talk about it. Let's not silence it," he told CBS News.
"Violence at home is on the rise," Alakbarov said. "Victims and potential victims must be able to access life-saving care and support, even during the lockdown. We cannot forget women and girls during the pandemic. Let's focus on them."
If you are a survivor or victim in the U.S. and it is an emergency, dial 911. Other resources include: The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE, or text LOVEIS to 22522. If it is an emergency in the U.K., call the police at 999, or for additional resources in Britain, you can dial the National Domestic Abuse hotline at 0808 2000 247.