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COVID 19 Pandemic, Lockdown, and the surge in sexual violence. What is the role of the State?

COVID 19 Pandemic, Lockdown, and the surge in sexual violence. What is the role of the State?
July 24, 2020 STER

By Aminat Lawal


Since the end of 2019, the world has been in a state of disaster caused by the COVID -19 pandemic. This has led to most countries imposing various forms of lockdown on their citizens as a way to control the spread of the virus. Many consequences have resulted from this lockdown but one of the major ones has been the surge in sexual violence as well as other forms of gender-based violence.

Before the pandemic, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that 1 in 3 women had experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. In Nigeria, there were reports that 30% of women and girls aged 15-49 had experienced a form of sexual abuse[1]. However, this has drastically increased since the onset of the pandemic. It has even been described by the African Renewal as the “shadow pandemic” that is, a pandemic that has resulted in a pandemic.

According to the WHO, there have been reports from countries such as the United States, Singapore, China, and the United Kingdom that suggest an increase in cases of sexual violence since the outbreak began. In Jingzhou, a city in the Hubei province, it was reported that the number of domestic violence cases reported to the police tripled in February 2020[2]. In Nigeria, there was a monthly increase of 149% in reports of gender-based violence after the introduction of the lockdown in March[3]. There was also an increase from 60 cases in March to 238 cases in April in Lagos, Ogun, and Kano; the three states which imposed the strictest lockdown restrictions[4]. In June, the government was forced to declare a state of emergency on rape in all states due to the overwhelming cases of sexual violence.

This surge has occurred due to chaos and instability that occur during pandemics and are often have more of a negative effect on women and girls. In addition, due to the lockdown, a large number of women have been forced to be in close contact with family members who may also be sexual abusers as it is an established fact that a large number of sexual abuse cases are perpetrated by partners or close family members.

Women also have lost access to close friends and family members who may have acted as their support system. Due to the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, a lot of women have little or no access to their basic needs as well as vital sexual and reproductive health needs and services. In addition, many resources such as the police and medical services have also been redirected towards the pandemic, which has made access to justice and medical needs increasingly difficult for survivors.

As a response to this issue, the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres has called on governments around the world “to make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of their national response plans for Covid-19”. Therefore, the responsibility is on the state to tackle this crisis and put an end to it. The state needs to ensure that all protective services that address violence against women are included as essential services. This would give women the necessary access to hotlines, crisis centers, psychosocial service as well as sexual and reproductive services.

Non-profit organizations dedicated to supporting survivors of sexual violence have been found to play an important factor in addressing violence against women and girls in our society. Therefore, the state should lend its support to these organizations by providing them with grants and other services to aid them in supporting survivors of sexual violence. As most health workers and services have been diverted to the frontlines due to the pandemic, the state could create a pathway to deliver medical services to survivors through these organizations.

It is also important that access to justice is not suspended. Therefore, the responsibility is on the state to ensure that adequate and safe measures are put in place to allow survivors to seek justice. There is also the need for awareness and sensitization of the public and the community as to the higher risk of sexual violence during this time. It is important that these measures are put in place so that survivors of sexual violence can seek help without alerting their abusers; as they may still be in a situation where they are forced to be in close contact with them.

As we have seen, sexual violence does not stop during a pandemic so the duty falls on the state, whose primary duty is to protect the lives and property of citizens.

[1] Retrieved from https://www.theigc.org/blog/the-shadow-pandemic-gender-based-violence-and-covid-19/ on 21st July 2020

[2]  Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian “China’s Domestic Violence Epidemic,” Axios, March 7, 2020, https://www.axios.com/china-domestic-violencecoronavirus-quarantine-7b00c3ba-35bc-4d16-afdd-b76ecfb28882.html 4

[3] https://www.theigc.org/blog/the-shadow-pandemic-gender-based-violence-and-covid-19/ on 21st July 2020

[4] ”The shadow pandemic: Gender-based violence and COVID-19, the International Growth Centre


Photocred: Humanitarian Law and Policy (ICRC)

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