COVID19: Domestic abuse spikes in lockdown divided Cyprus

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Violence against women has reached alarming levels on both sides of Cyprus’ divide after Cypriots were obliged to stay at home following the coronavirus outbreak in March.

The Bicommunal Technical Committee on Gender Equality reports that domestic violence incidents have increased islandwide coinciding with measures restricting freedom of movement due to COVID-19.

“Isolation, alongside health and economic problems that pile up, caused globally an upsurge of violence against women and girls. The same is true for the whole of Cyprus,” said a statement from the gender equality committee.

It said incidents of domestic violence in the Greek Cypriot community increased by 58% since the lockdown, from mid-March to 22 April.

“In the Turkish Cypriot community, the situation is even worse, as calls on helplines increased up to 10 times since the lockdown.”

The committee said shelters in both communities are not enough to provide support, and alternative accommodation for victims had to be found while there is no adequate infrastructure to help women after they leave the shelters.

The committee notes that social isolation is already a far too common phenomenon in the lives of domestic violence survivors, now induced by restrictive measures forcing women to stay under the same roof with their abusers.

“Social isolation is a powerful weapon used by abusers to perpetuate their cycles of violence by controlling and limiting the partner’s access to the outside, robbing them of support networks and reinforcing feelings of despair.”

The committee voiced concern over the fact there is no increase (in the Greek Cypriot community) or even a substantial drop (in the Turkish Cypriot community) in the number of domestic violence cases dealt by the police.

The committee finds that there are three main reasons for this.

One, being stuck under the same roof with the abuser, is making it more difficult for survivors to reach the police.

“Fear of uncertainty and feelings of helplessness are intensified, making survivors more hesitant to seek support and protection.”

The committee argued that domestic violence is not on the priority list for the police, especially at this time.

It said in the Turkish Cypriot community, some reports and complaints are handled improperly, or not handled at all and are left undocumented.

“Furthermore, patriarchy in Cyprus is deeply rooted and women are not generally encouraged by society to take life into their hands.”

The bicommunal committee urged authorities to address the gender impact of the pandemic as well as the measures taken to combat it.