Reports of domestic violence in Greece spike during COVID-19 lockdown

As Greece went into lockdown to stop the spread of COVID-19, like in countries worldwide, reports of domestic violence spiked.

During the first quarantine in springtime, calls to a special hotline quadrupled within a month and experts expect a similar alarming pattern during the current second nationwide lockdown, a Greek official has told Xinhua.

On the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women which falls on Nov. 25 each year, Maria Syrengela, Secretary General for Family Policy and Gender Equality at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, urged women suffering to speak up and seek help.

“During the previous lockdown in March and April, we saw that reports via the hotline 15900 quadrupled. Several women called for the first time, as well as third parties (relatives, friends, neighbors). Once the lockdown was lifted, we also recorded a great surge at advisory centers,” she said.

The emergency hotline received 1,769 calls reporting alleged acts of domestic violence in April, up from 325 in March, according to data provided by the General Secretariat.

Most victims (27 percent) were in the age group 40-54, followed by age group 25-39 (18 percent), according to an analysis of calls to 15900. The majority (52 percent) were married and 62 percent had children. The 40 percent of callers sought psychological aid, while 36 percent legal support.

The increase in abuse incidents during the lockdown did not come as a surprise to experts.

“Based on what we learn from psychologists and social workers, there was always a spike when the movement was restricted and couples spent more time at home, during Christmas and New Year’s eve holidays or summer holidays. That doesn’t mean that people became aggressive overnight. Restrictions fuel aggressive behavior,” Syrengela explained.

According to a survey conducted by the Hellenic Society of Forensic Medicine (HSFM) in 2017, a quarter of women in Greece have suffered physical abuse, and in eight out of ten cases, the perpetrators were the victims’ partners or close relatives. In most cases, silence prevails and abuse is not reported.

The scale of violence against women remains alarming in the European Union, as one in three women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence, Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and also Vice-President of the European Commission, noted in a statement issued this week.

In order to help victims also during this difficult period, Greek authorities tried to keep contact with the women electronically since face to face appointments were no longer an option and run information campaigns in the media to boost awareness and send a message to victims even in remote regions that they are not alone, Syrengela said.

“We had campaigns during the first period and now and as a country I believe we face the phenomenon with actions and not just words. Each country should have a network of centers to support these women. This is the most important and our country has it and, I think, responds quite well,” the Greek official said.

Greece has 42 advisory centers nationwide and 20 hosting facilities (for women and their underage children).

Since 2018 the Greek parliament has ratified the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, known also as the Istanbul Convention, Syrengela said, noting that it is a good roadmap to effective policies.

The official called on victims to stop the circle of abuse by opening up and seek aid. “They should find the strength in themselves, there is support, there is an entire network to support these women so they can stand on their feet. They should not be afraid. They are not alone. It is better to lodge a complaint,” she said.

Greece entered its second lockdown on Nov. 7 which was scheduled to end on Nov. 30. However, government ministers have repeatedly said in the past few days that it will most likely be extended, as the restrictions have still not yielded satisfactory results.

On Tuesday authorities announced 2,135 new infections within 24 hours which bring the total to 95,137 since the first case was diagnosed in the country on Feb. 26.

Currently, 562 patients were intubated, which is a new record high since the start of the pandemic. Moreover, 101 people have died since Monday. Greece’s death toll of the past nine months stands at 1,815 fatalities.