Europe braces for domestic abuse ‘perfect storm’ amid coronavirus lockdown

By Sophie Davies and Emma Batha

BARCELONA/LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Domestic abuse charities in Europe have called for hotels and holiday lets to be turned into refuges as they warned that coronavirus lockdowns would lead to a massive jump in the numbers of women fleeing violence.

Governments, support services and charities are scrambling to help thousands of women facing weeks of isolation at home with a violent partner during quarantine measures.

“It’s a perfect storm,” Suzanne Jacob, chief executive of British charity SafeLives, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Lockdowns will lead to a surge in domestic abuse, but also severely limit the ability of services to help.”

Britain joined Italy, Spain, France and Belgium this week in ordering citizens to stay home to curb the spread of COVID-19, which has killed more than 21,000 worldwide.

As the country shut down, charities urged employers, bank staff, healthworkers and neighbours to be extra vigilant, adding that even a note dropped in a grocery bag could be a lifeline for a woman trapped with an abusive partner.

In Spain, local authorities in the Canary Islands have set up an initiative that enables victims of domestic abuse to go to their pharmacy and request a ‘Mask 19’, a code word that will alert the pharmacist to contact the authorities.

Gender experts say rates of domestic and sexual violence rise when societies are under stress, during natural disasters, food shortages and epidemics – or even when a local football team loses a match.

In China, where the virus first emerged, anecdotal evidence suggests reports of domestic abuse doubled or trebled during its lockdown which began in January. A hashtag translating as #AntiDomesticViolenceDuringEpidemic also went viral.

‘MASSIVE INFLUX’

Countries in Europe said it was too early to say whether cases had gone up.

But domestic abuse survivor Rachel Williams, who is running online support groups in Britain during the crisis, said she had heard of a 30% increase in some countries in lockdown.

“We are going to see a massive influx here, without a shadow of a doubt. The government must look at using hotels, bed and breakfasts and Airbnbs to keep women safe,” she added.

Williams, who was shot by her estranged husband after leaving him following years of abuse, said there were just 4,000 refuge spaces across the country, which saw 19,000 referrals last year.

In Italy – in lockdown since March 9 – refuges and support centres say they are struggling to operate and often lack masks and hand sanitiser for staff.

Coronavirus has killed more than 7,500 people in Italy, by far the worst affected country.

D.i.RE, a network of 80 centres, has asked the government to free up facilities for new domestic abuse cases to prevent them potentially introducing coronavirus into existing refuges.

One centre in the northern Emilia Romagna region is converting a former convent for use. Another in Padua is using holiday lettings site Booking.com to find apartments for women.

Some services in Italy are asking women to provide a negative COVID-19 test in order to access shelters, but tests are not widely available to people without symptoms.

CODED MESSAGES

In France, which went into lockdown last week, Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa has warned that quarantine will be a “breeding ground for violence” with emergency shelter provision a major concern.

France’s national domestic abuse hotline has seen a rise in calls this week, but helplines and charities elsewhere said calls had fallen as it became harder for women to reach out.

“We’re having trouble talking to women by phone as their abusers are on the prowl 24 hours a day,” said abuse survivor Ana Bella Estevez, who runs a support organisation in Seville in southern Spain.

Estevez, who fled her abusive marriage after her husband tried to kill her, said her charity would normally call women when their partners were at work, but was increasingly turning to text-based technology including WhatsApp.

The Spanish government has said it will shortly launch a chat service with geolocation technology enabling victims to contact the police, and another providing psychological support during isolation.

Madrid, Valencia and Andalusia are meanwhile looking to adopt the ‘Mask 19′ initiative, according to media reports.

In Britain, SafeLives said bank staff as well as health workers should watch out for coded messages abuse victims may give out when contacting them.

With many people having lost jobs or income during the crisis, Lloyds Bank – one of Britain’s biggest banks – has sought the charity’s advice on how to spot vulnerable customers.

As people set up new methods of home-working, SafeLives’ CEO Jacob said employers should also think about what their employees’ homelife is like and keep regular contact.

For someone living with a controlling partner a chat with the boss may be one of the few ways they can keep in touch with the outside world.

Jacob also warned that job losses would not only heighten women’s vulnerability to abuse, but could leave them stuck in dangerous relationships long after the crisis is over.

“It’s vital to protect people’s employment and income now to make sure they don’t end up trapped in abusive situations when we get through the other side of this,” she said.

Abuse survivor Williams, who has written about her experiences in a book called “The Devil at Home”, also urged the public to reach out if worried about a neighbour.

“Ask if they need any shopping. That could allow them to write something on their shopping list. Or, if it’s safe to do so, drop a note in the bag when you hand over the shopping,” she said.

“Don’t be a bystander. More so than ever before, domestic abuse is everybody’s business.”

(Additional reporting by Elena Berton in Paris. Writing by Emma Batha @emmabatha; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

More U.S. children die in mass shootings at home than at school: study

By Brad Brooks

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – Three out of four U.S. children and teens killed in mass shootings over the past decade were victims of domestic violence and generally died in their homes, according to a study released on Thursday by the gun control group Everytown.

While the specter of school shootings looms darkly in the minds of American parents who remember massacres in Newtown, Connecticut; Parkland, Florida, and around the country, the group’s review of shootings from 2009 through 2018 found far more children are killed in their own homes.

“These are not random acts of violence, yet people have the perception that the killings come out of nowhere,” said Sarah Burd-Sharps, Everytown’s research director. “That is simply not the truth.”

The Everytown report, based on police and court records, as well as media reports, found that 54% of mass shootings involved the shooter killing a family member or intimate partner.

A total of 1,121 people were killed in 194 mass shootings in the decade examined – one-third of whom were children or teens.

Nearly two-thirds of all mass shootings took place entirely inside homes, the study found.

Burd-Sharps said Everytown hopes that its report helps the public gain more understanding about the statistical realities of mass shootings, which it defines as an incident that kills at least four people, excluding the shooter.

The federal government and other groups set a lower threshold for what constitutes a mass shooting. Those definitions can result in higher totals than Everytown’s count.

Only 1% of the nearly 35,000 gun deaths averaged in the United States each year in the past decade involved mass shootings, but Burd-Sharps said she believes public interest in them can help propel gun-safety legislation that could cut gun deaths across the board.

At the top of Everytown’s wish list is a “red flag” law that would allow family members or law enforcement officers to petition a judge to seize firearms from a person they think is a threat to themselves or others.

The group also believes a comprehensive federal law requiring background checks on all gun sales would quickly be effective in decreasing gun deaths.

The link between domestic violence in mass shootings was seen this week in San Diego, when a man who had a restraining order against him killed his wife and three of their four young sons before taking his own life.

“When you look at all these cases of kids who lost their lives, if some family member had been able to heed the warning signs and temporarily had guns removed from the home, many of those children would still be alive,” Burd-Sharps said.

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Berkrot)

Thousands gather in Madrid to protest violence against women

MADRID (Reuters) – Thousands of protesters gathered in central Madrid on Friday to draw attention to domestic violence in a year when over 40 women have been recorded so far as having been killed by their partner or ex-partners.

Protesters carried banners reading “We don’t want to carry on counting victims” and chanted “We are not alone” as they brandished umbrellas in pouring rain.

The government regularly publishes the number of women killed by partners or ex-partners. The number so far this year is 42, according to government statistics, with more than 1,000 killed since records started in 2003.

Rates of reported partner violence in Spain are amongst the lowest in Europe and Spain ranked as the European Union country with the most visible campaign against domestic violence, according to a 2014 EU survey.

(Reporting by Sonya Dowsett; editing by Grant McCool)

U.N. rights expert urges Malaysia to end child marriage

Prime Minister of Malaysia Mahathir bin Mohamad addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 28, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia should ban child marriage immediately, a United Nations human rights expert said on Monday, stepping into a controversy that has raged since reports in July that a 44-year-old Malaysian man had married an 11-year-old Thai girl.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s government, in power since May, has promised to raise the legal age of marriage to 18, provoking a backlash from some conservative Islamic leaders who argue that early marriage provides an answer to social ills like premarital sex and pregnancies out of wedlock.

Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, the U.N. special rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, urged Malaysian authorities to protect the rights of minors, particularly young girls.

Married underage girls were at higher risk of domestic violence, and are often denied the chance to pursue an education, she told reporters.

“By marrying them, you are denying these girls their basic human rights,” said de Boer-Buquicchio, who was on an eight-day visit to mostly-Muslim Malaysia.

In Malaysia, the legal minimum age for marriage under civil law for both genders is 18. However, girls can marry at 16 with the permission of their state’s chief minister, while Islamic law sets a 16-year minimum age for girls and allows even earlier marriages with the permission of the sharia court.

The U.N. official called on Malaysia to remove exemptions that allowed underage children to marry, saying “there can be no exceptions.”

More than 5,000 applications for marriages involving minors were made at the sharia court between 2013 and 2017, government statistics show.

But many child marriages remained unreported, particularly among indigenous groups on Borneo, in Malaysia’s east, de Boer-Buquicchio said.

“It is time to be firm,” she said, adding that Malaysia’s government should engage religious and customary leaders on the issue.

“The political will is there, but the question is how you can reach out to all the different entities.”

Last year, Malaysia passed a law on sexual offences against children but did not criminalize child marriage.

(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Suspect in deadly Florida standoff had stockpiled guns: police

Gary Wayne Lindsey Jr., 35, is seen in this Volusia County Corrections booking photo taken in Florida, U.S., May 8, 2018. Picture taken May 8, 2018. Courtesy Volusia County Corrections/Handout via REUTERS

By Joey Roulette

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) – A convicted felon found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his Orlando, Florida apartment alongside the bodies of four children after a standoff in which he shot a police officer had stockpiled an arsenal of guns, police said on Tuesday.

Officers who stormed a three-bedroom unit at the Westbrook Apartments on Monday night, nearly a full day after responding to an emergency call, found two rifles, two shotguns and a handgun inside, Orlando Police Chief John Mina said at a late-afternoon press conference.

Mina said it was still unclear when the four children, two of whom belonged to suspect Gary Wayne Lindsey, 35, were shot to death. Lindsey had also shot and killed himself.

“It is still a very active and ongoing investigation,” Mina said. “We’re trying to gain as much information about him as possible.”

The 21-hour ordeal started shortly before midnight on Sunday when Orlando police responded to a domestic violence call by the suspect’s girlfriend.

Lindsey shot and wounded an officer through the apartment’s front door before barricading himself inside with the four children, aged 1, 6, 10 and 11, as hostages, police said. The standoff ended at about 9 p.m. local time on Monday, when police entered the apartment and found the children and the suspect dead of gunshot wounds.

The police officer shot at the front door was listed in critical condition at a local hospital.

The woman who called the police was the mother of all four of the children, and Lindsey had fathered the two youngest, Orlando police spokeswoman Michelle Guido said in an email.

Lindsey was a convicted felon on probation after pleading no contest to arson and battery charges. In a 2008 incident, Lindsey became violent during an argument with his former fiancee and set the house on fire after the woman fled.

Residents Miguel and Maria Lopez returned early on Tuesday to the Orlando apartment complex after being evacuated the night before.

“I can’t even sleep. I have all the images in my mind, like the police officers, the guns shooting.” Maria said. “I don’t feel safe here.”

(Reporting by Joey Roulette in Orlando; additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Makini Brice in New York; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; editing by Frank McGurty and G Crosse)

Family sues retailer for sale of gun used in Texas church massacre

Crosses are seen placed at a memorial in memory of the victims killed in the shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S., November 7, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan

By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) – The family of a woman and two children killed when a gunman opened fire in a rural Texas church has sued the store that sold the assault rifle used in the deadliest mass murder in the state’s history, lawyers said on Friday.

The lawsuit filed this week in a state district court in San Antonio seeks at least $25 million from Academy Sports Outdoors, accusing it of being negligent in allowing the sale of the Ruger AR-556 used to kill 26 people at Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church on Nov. 5.

The retailer was not immediately available for comment and has previously told media it conducted all the required background checks.

The suit was brought by relatives of Joann Ward, who was fatally shot along with her daughters Emily Garcia and Brooke Ward.

The lawsuit claims that when the gunman, Devin Kelley, purchased the weapon in a San Antonio store, he entered an address in Colorado Springs on the federal Firearms Transaction Record form that needs to be completed before a firearm can be sold.

He obtained the weapon in Texas but it should have been sent to his Colorado residence, where he had been stationed with the U.S. Air Force, the lawsuit said.

“The Ruger should have never been placed in Kelley’s hands in Texas,” Houston Attorney Jason Webster, lead attorney on the case, said in a statement.

Kelley had a court-martial conviction for assault, which should have permanently disqualified him from legally obtaining a gun.

But the Air Force has acknowledged it failed to enter Kelley’s 2012 domestic violence offense into a U.S. government database used by licensed gun dealers for conducting background checks on firearms purchasers.

Another family, several of whose members were killed in the shooting, has filed a negligence claim against the U.S. Air Force over its failure to enter the name into the database.

(Reporting by Jim Forsyth in San Antonio; Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin; Editing by James Dalgleish)

North Korean women suffer discrimination, rape, malnutrition: U.N.

Women wearing traditional clothes walk past North Korean soldiers after an opening ceremony for a newly constructed residential complex in Ryomyong street in Pyongyang, North Korea April 13, 2017.

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – North Korean women are deprived of education and job opportunities and are often subjected to violence at home and sexual assault in the workplace, a U.N. human rights panel said on Monday.

After a regular review of Pyongyang’s record, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women also voiced concern at rape or mistreatment of women in detention especially those repatriated after fleeing abroad.

North Korean women are “under-represented or disadvantaged” in tertiary education, the judiciary, security and police forces and leadership and managerial positions “in all non-traditional areas of work”, the panel of independent experts said.

“The main issue is first of all the lack of information. We have no access to a large part of laws, elements and information on national machinery,” Nicole Ameline, panel member, told Reuters. “We have asked a lot of questions.”

North Korea told the panel on Nov. 8 that it was working to uphold women’s rights and gender equality but that sanctions imposed by major powers over its nuclear and missile programs were taking a toll on vulnerable mothers and children.

Domestic violence is prevalent and there is “very limited awareness” about the issue and a lack of legal services, psycho-social support and shelters available for victims, the panel said.

It said economic sanctions had a disproportionate impact on women. North Korean women suffer “high levels of malnutrition”, with 28 percent of pregnant or lactating women affected, it said.

“We have called on the government to be very, very attentive to the situation of food and nutrition. Because we consider that it is a basic need and that the government has to invest and to assume its responsibilities in this field,” Ameline said.

“Unfortunately I am not sure that the situation will improve very quickly.”

The report found that penalties for rape in North Korea were not commensurate with the severity of the crime, which also often goes unpunished. Legal changes in 2012 lowered the penalties for some forms of rape, including the rape of children, rape by a work supervisor and repeated rape.

This has led to reducing the punishment for forcing “a woman in a subordinate position” to have sexual intercourse from four years to three years, the report said.

It said women trafficked abroad and then returned to North Korea, are reported to be sent to labor training camps or prisons, accused of “illegal border crossing”, and may be exposed to further violations of their rights, including sexual violence by security officials and forced abortions.

 

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Alison Williams)

 

Alabama police hunting for inmate after large prison break

Inmate Brady Andrew Kilpatrick shown in this undated booking photo provided July 31, 2017, is the last remaining inmate at large after 11 of 12 prison escapees have been recaptured after a mass jailbreak at the Walker County Jail, near Birmingham, Alabama, according to authorities. Courtesy Walker County

(Reuters) – Law enforcement officials searched on Monday for an escaped prisoner on the loose in northern Alabama following a jailbreak of 12 prisoners, the local sheriff’s office said.

There were scant details about how the 12 inmates managed to escape from Walker County Jail, northwest of Birmingham, but the county sheriff’s office said on Facebook that authorities had recaptured 11 of them, some at a highway truck stop.

They continued to hunt for Brady Kilpatrick, the 24-year-old inmate who was still at large. Kilpatrick had been in jail facing charges of marijuana possession.

Police in the small city of Jasper, where the jail is located, urged downtown residents to stay inside and turn on their outdoor lights. Police from nearby Parrish, Alabama, were also involved in the search.

The dozen escapees, all men aged 18 to 30, were imprisoned on charges including robbery, attempted murder, domestic violence and drug possession.

 

(Reporting by Chris Michaud and Jonathan Allen; Editing by Scott Malone and Frances Kerry)

 

In Brazil a woman is killed every two hours from domestic violence

Brazil's President Rousseff poses with women's rights activist Maria da Penha during the launch of the "Woman: Living without Violence" program in Brasilia

By Jo Griffin

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Brazil must do more to ensure its landmark law on domestic violence combats the crime in a country where statistics show a woman is killed every two hours, said Maria da Penha, whose own fight for justice led to a law named after her 10 years ago.

Da Penha, a biopharmacist in northeast Ceara state who was left paraplegic in 1983 after her husband tried to kill her, has shared her name for the past decade with the law praised by the United Nations as world leading on gender violence.

The Maria da Penha law toughened sentences for offenders and set up specialized courts, police stations and shelters for women in cities of more than 60,000 people.

It also gave judges the powers to grant protective measures, like restraining orders, making domestic violence visible.

In March, Brazil’s National Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA) credited the law and linked programs with a 10 percent drop in homicides of women at home over the decade.

But activists say other data suggests gender violence is still rampant. In 2015, the Forum for Public Security estimated a rape occurred every 11 minutes in Brazil while another group, the Map of Violence, said a woman was killed every two hours.

Da Penha, 71, said there was still a long way to go with smaller cities still lacking the new special services for women.

“Unfortunately, in the majority of districts women at risk of domestic violence have nowhere to go to make a complaint,” Da Penha told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an email interview.

Since 2009, the Maria da Penha Institute has teamed up with universities to train people working with domestic violence survivors so their work is not “compromised by macho attitudes”.

But changing a wider culture of machismo is not easy.

“It’s clear that we all agree there must be an end to gender violence, but what are we doing to achieve this? How many of us still go along with old sayings such as, ‘no one should interfere in a fight between husband and wife?’,” she said.

EMBLEMATIC FIGURE

In Brazil, Da Penha is revered for her work on women’s rights. Former President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva, who passed the law in her name, was among those to congratulate her publicly on its 10th anniversary last month.

But it is her personal story and long fight for justice that has made her an emblematic figure for supporters around Brazil.

In 1983 her then husband shot her while she slept, leaving her paralyzed. When she returned home after four months in hospital, he tried to electrocute her while she took a shower.

Her case against him languished in court for two decades and he eventually served just two years in jail for his crime.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights criticized Brazil for not doing enough to prosecute and convict perpetrators of domestic violence and in 2006 the Maria da Penha Act was born.

That international intervention was necessary then shows the extent of Brazil’s negligence of gender violence, Da Penha said.

“We need to act to change perspectives on this patriarchal and macho culture that violated and still violates millions of women in (Brazil),” said Da Penha, adding education was vital.

Nevertheless, a lot of progress was made under President Dilma Rousseff, who has just been impeached, she said.

She cited a 24-hour “Disque Denuncia” hotline to receive and report calls about domestic violence, and the 2015 law that criminalizes femicide.

But Da Penha said women’s rights activists must get behind implementation of the law to ensure tolerance of violence ends.

“I never imagined that my struggle, which began with a lot of pain and suffering, would end up where it did … To have the law named after me is also a big responsibility, since it does not permit me to stop [my work],” she said.

(Reporting by Jo Griffin, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)