France is relocating women beaten by their partners into hotels, and has created a secret code word for them to discreetly seek help in pharmacies, in response to a huge increase in domestic abuse during the coronavirus lockdown.
In France and many other affected countries, restrictions on movement during the pandemic have trapped women inside their homes with abusive partners, resulting in a sharp rise in reports of domestic violence. French officials say that reports of abuse have leaped by about one third around the country since the restrictions came into effect on March 17.
In response, the government has launched several new initiatives to help women escape what Gender Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa has described as “a breeding ground for violence.” Schiappa announced Monday that the government would pay for up to 20,000 nights of accommodation in hotels to help women escape abusive partners, and had set up 20 support centers at shopping centers around the country where women could seek help.
“My biggest concern is to multiply the points of contact with women. As it’s difficult for women to get out, we want to make sure that support systems can go to women,” Schiappa told French newspaper Le Parisien.
Last week, French officials set up an “alert system” in pharmacies nationwide, where victims of domestic abuse could discreetly ask the pharmacist to call police by asking for a “mask 19.” The initiative mimics a scheme set up in Spain’s Canary Islands that uses the same code word.
Le Parisien reported that the first arrest under the scheme was made in the northeastern city of Nancy on Saturday, after a woman who was five months pregnant reported that her partner had slapped her and threatened her with a knife. The woman did not need to use the code word as she went to the pharmacy unaccompanied by her husband, prosecutors told the newspaper.
Schiappa tweeted Tuesday that thousands of women were also reporting assaults using the government’s online “stop the violence” platform, which connected them with police officers trained in responding to domestic violence cases.
Officials and domestic violence services around the world have reported similar rises in abuse since their countries went into lockdown.
In Hubei, China, where the outbreak began, the founder of an anti-domestic violence nonprofit in the city of Jingzhou told the Sixth Tone website earlier this month that reports of domestic violence had nearly doubled since the lockdown. Similar spikes have been reported by domestic violence helplines and drop-in centers in Spain, Cyprus, and Brazil.
Officials in other countries have taken steps of varying degrees to help domestic violence victims seek help amid the pandemic, with police in India’s Uttar Pradesh state launching a special hotline number, and Spain’s government advising women that they were exempt from strict lockdown restrictions if they needed to leave the home to flee or report abuse. In Trento, Italy, a prosecutor ruled that abusers, rather than their victims, would have to leave their homes if they committed an assault.
Cover: Daily Life in Paris, amid Covid-19 outbreak lockdown in France, on March 29, 2020. Photo by Alain Apaydin/Abaca/Sipa USA(Sipa via AP Images)