A few days ago the first annual report on violence against women was published by the General Secretariat for Family Policy and Gender Equality (Available in Greek https://www.isotita.gr/ekdoseis-ggif). It coincided with the second phase of a general lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This analysis will comment on the available data for the first lockdown period (March and April 2020) and examine to what extent the issues that emerged have been resolved during this second lockdown (See for the issues in Greece during the first lockdown https://elan.jus.unipi.it/blog/domestic-violence-and-discrimination-in-greece-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/).
According to the aforementioned report, during the first lockdown, the calls to the helpline for women victims of violence increased dramatically. There was an increase of 51% between the calls received in 2019 and the ones in 2020. This increase resulted without a doubt from the Covid-19 pandemic and the quarantine imposed. Of course one may argue that the available media campaigns informed victims about the possibility to seek help by calling at this helpline. However, this kind of increase cannot be justified just by resorting to the greater visibility of the helpline. On the contrary, it must be noted that those calls represent only a small fraction of the total number of women that experienced some sort of violence. Firstly, a lot of women chose not to use the helpline and directly contacted the police. There is also a large number of women that requested assistance from an NGO or even privately from a lawyer or psychologist. And of course there is also a number of women that remained silent. Moreover, the very nature of this type of assistance for victims was somehow problematic. A lot of women couldn’t speak on the phone about the abuse, since usually the perpetrator was at the same house. Indeed, 92% of the calls in March and 87 % in April concerned incidents of domestic abuse, predominately committed by the husband. The General Secretariat trying to address the problem offered the alternative of sending an email to the helpline. Nevertheless, an email is hardly an effective way of making the victim feel safe and comfortable to reveal abuse. Creating an application or enabling online chatting would be a viable solution. Although it requires increased resources, an online chat is an alternative suiting the current circumstances, also selected by experienced in the field NGOs, like CRWI “Diotima”.
Comparing the two months of the first lockdown, in April there was an increase of 227,4% in calls on violent incidents and 142% in calls where women asked for information, indicating that prolonging the quarantine measures exacerbates the issue. Therefore, in terms of protecting women, it is maybe preferable to adopt rolling instead of hard and long lockdowns.
Ιt is also worth pointing out that 85% and 91% of the calls answered in March and April respectively were made from women that used the helpline for the first time. It is, therefore, safe to conclude that during the lockdown, on the one hand, the pre-existing abuse worsened and, on the other hand, mainly due to financial repercussions, stress and confinement some perpetrators became abusive for the first time.
Now Greece is in a second general lockdown since 7 November. Initially, this second quarantine was meant to last only 3 weeks, but it has already be prolonged for 5 weeks and will undoubtedly last even longer. However, there have been some alterations influencing also the issues that emerged during the first lockdown for victims of gender-based violence, and especially domestic abuse. Firstly, an exception from movement restrictions has been provided in order to meet with a lawyer. Victims of domestic abuse can now leave the house and discuss in person with their attorney-at-law. It is a very important alteration since victims of domestic abuse couldn’t safely communicate via telephone from their house where the abuser also resides. Asking for an appointment for filing a complaint in police stations is also significantly recused as a practice. The victim can now in most cases go directly to a police station and file a complaint, although there are great delays that can result in discouraging the victim and the reluctance in following the special procedure for caught-in-the-act offenders (flagrante delicto) remains.
Moreover, the conditions for applying for protective measures have been relaxed. During the first quarantine, applying for protection measures was contingent upon a decision from a judge that there was a real and imminent risk. Now, it is possible to make a request for interim measures (restraining and protection orders) meeting the normal conditions generally established for these procedures. Although the judges are a bit more reluctant than during the normal period, it is without a doubt a significant amelioration.
For victims of domestic abuse the decision of the Government to leave the hotels open during this second lockdown was also very important. Due to the high occupancy of the shelters and the great delays in concluding the necessary medical examinations during this challenging for the healthcare system period, hotels are a viable alternative for victims that need an immediate escape from an abusive environment.
However, the serious delays at all stages of criminal proceedings remain since most of the proceedings have been suspended, risking relevant offences to become time-barred. There are also issues regarding the investigation of some crimes, especially for example of sexual assaults, due to the reluctance of the victims to promptly seek help. Lockdown measures combined with the fear of infection, as pressure on hospitals continuously rises, prevent sexual assault victims from going to hospitals and seek help.
Summing up, Greece has faced an undeniable rise in gender-based violence and especially in domestic abuse amid the pandemic. This second lockdown will also be an ordeal for victims of domestic abuse. However, there are several ameliorations. Although those amendments haven’t been introduced in order to specifically address domestic abuse victims’ needs, they affect positively them too. A looser lockdown definitely facilitates victims that want to report. However, it may not be enough to halt the increase in domestic abuse cases.
Chara Chioni-Chotouman – PhD Candidate in Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens