The firm message to stay at home may have led women who are victims of domestic violence to avoid contact with women’s shelters during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The firm message to stay at home may have led women who are victims of domestic violence to avoid contact with women’s shelters during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have caused more violence against women in Norway

A new report uncovers insufficient communication from the Norwegian authorities concerning support for women who are victims of domestic violence during the corona crisis.

When the corona pandemic hit Norway, the entire country closed down in one day. Schools and kindergartens shut their doors, companies temporarily laid off their employees, and most people were told to stay at home. A new report (only available in Nowegian) examines what consequences this may have had for violence toward women.

“When the population is stressed due to layoffs and restricted freedom of movement, and the support system is subjected to restrictions and become harder to reach, it may certainly lead to increased violence,” says Mari Trommald.

She is director of Bufdir – The Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs, who commissioned the work.

May have avoided seeking help

During the lockdown, the authorities told the Norwegian population to avoid contact with the health services unless strictly necessary, in order not to overstrain the health care system.

The Kilden-report finds that this may have caused women who are victims of domestic violence to avoid contact with women’s shelters and other support services such as the police.

It also concludes that communication from the authorities has been insufficient, and the information that has been given has probably not reached enough of those for which it was intended.

Kilden recommends that more municipalities develop action plans against domestic violence, and that the authorities find better ways to reach those who are victims of violence during the pandemic.

Essential to avoid new lockdown

Trommald from Bufdir believes that when it comes to violence against women and consequences for equality more generally, the problem is not the spread of the coronavirus – but rather the possible negative effects of a lockdown.

She believes people in general understand that social distancing is important, but that what needs to be stressed is how a new lockdown might affect the entire society once more.

“Following infection control regulations and guidelines are essential in order to avoid this”, she says.

Worried about fewer enquiries

One of few existing reports about the consequences of the corona restrictions on violence against women in Norway is the women’s shelter report from the Norwegian Centre for Violence and Traumatic Stress Studies (NKVTS) (only available in Norwegian).

“Our study indicates a decrease in the number of people who have sought help from the women’s shelters. Some also report concerns that the situation may have created new opportunities for exerting control and psychological violence in the family,” says researcher Margunn Bjørnholt.

She says that they do not know the reason for the decrease, but it may be that people held their breath during the most strict part of the lockdown and therefore did not seek help.

“There are also many places in Norway where the distances to service facilities are enormous. If public transport is not available and the distance to the nearest women’s shelter is 500 kilometres, it is very hard for someone who lives with domestic violence to seek help.”

An important finding in the study was that the women’s shelters seemed well equipped for handling the corona crisis. They had both the capacity and a plan for helping potential victims of violence.

“Therefore, they were worried about the decrease in the number of enquiries, particularly among victims of violence with minority backgrounds or drug addictions,” Bjørnholt says.

Crises lead to more domestic violence

According to Bjørnholt, it is well documented in research that crises of various forms lead to an increase in domestic violence and relationships.

This was observed in several countries after the financial crisis and has also been observed after natural disasters and in wars and conflicts.

“The corona crisis represented a new situation, but the violence is not new, and the authorities’ responsibility to fight the violence is the same as before. It is therefore important to take the support system’s concerns seriously and examine them closely in our research”, says Bjørnholt.

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Women’s shelters critical for society

It is essential to make sure that the support services are known in society and that we work to ensure that the barriers for seeking help from these services are broken, according to Mari Trommald from Bufdir.

“An important measure from the government is that they have defined the women’s shelters as a function that is critical for society, and they have thus received more attention in the preparedness", she says.

The Kilden-report concludes, however, that the communication concerning support services has been insufficient.

“We have an own department that is responsible for following up the women’s shelters’ services. They have been in direct contact with county governors and all the women’s shelters in order to ensure that the services are open. In a lockdown period, the staff at the shelters may also feel unsafe due to the risk of infection. It is therefore important to ensure safe workplaces in such times,” says Trommald, and continues:

“Much has been done to ensure that the services are known and open. We have encouraged the shelters to be active in both the local and the social media, and we have made sure that information is available in several languages that the services are safe to use. Others will have to answer whether this is sufficient or not.”

A longer version of this article was first published on Kilden kjø

Translated by Cathinka Dahl Hambro


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