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By Laura Wilson, Women’s Human Rights Attorney
May 6th, 2020
At Global Rights for Women, one of our core values is agility in meeting the needs of our partners who work with victims around the world. Our agility serves us well as we navigate the impact of COVID-19 on women’s human rights.
Just as we feared, stay-at-home orders have increased isolation of victims and violence against women. Around the world, calls to police and advocacy services spiked as women found themselves trapped in the home with abusers. Meanwhile, in some communities, calls to child protection services all but disappeared as mandatory reporters lost in-person contact with children in schools. It is a dangerous time for many women and children.
As our own community scrambled to prepare for the incoming threat of COVID-19, we at Global Rights for Women asked ourselves: How can the legal systems that are so vital to women’s freedom from violence adapt to this new threat? How can we best advocate for communities to keep protecting women from violence – a pandemic within a pandemic?
Our staff’s vast experience and our innovative approach to legal and systems reform led us swiftly from reflection to action. We created an international webinar and interview series featuring experts in the field who share experiences and promising practices for adapting the systems’ response to violence against women during the pandemic. (Find our schedule and recordings of past webinars here.)
Our international training director, Melissa Scaia, had already been co-facilitating a virtual batterer’s intervention program called Pathways to Family Peace for the past 15 months, and had engaged researchers to study its effectiveness. When other programs for domestic violence perpetrators started thinking of going virtual during COVID-19, GRW created a forum for this vital discussion, offering a series of webinars for practitioners to discuss, learn and share ideas and experiences.
Recognizing that Batterer’s Intervention Programs (BIPs) are only one part of effective advocacy to end violence against women, we are also offering webinars on legal system adaptations for victims/survivors during COVID-19. We’ve covered topics including risk assessment and how courts are adapting to support victim safety and hold offenders accountable during the lockdown.
These interactive panels featured United States and international experts in the field. Over 2,000 participants joined in, with representation from 68 countries on every continent.
So what have we learned so far? Everywhere, the conversation about how to support victim safety and offender accountability during COVID-19 is evolving. It is too early to define best practices, but several themes have emerged:
- Victims’ access to shelter, advocacy and interventions should be considered paramount essential services, and systems should constantly evaluate whether they are adequately meeting victims’ needs.
- Leaders should publicly emphasize that victims are not alone, and that the system will continue to prioritize prevention of and response to domestic and sexual violence during COVID-19.
- Law enforcement and legal system practices may need to shift in order to better protect women in isolation; for example, by increasing probation officers’ contact with perpetrators by phone, or by issuing Orders for Protection without a hearing whenever possible.
- Communities should think creatively about how bystanders, private businesses, and other “nontraditional” actors can support victim safety.
- Any change in practice should be continuously assessed for unintended consequences that could increase the risk to victims.
- Efforts should be made to get input from victims when changes in programming are made.
In May, we will continue our webinar series, tackling issues including sexual violence, coercive control in domestic violence, and criminal court operations during COVID-19. In addition, we have interviewed several expert judges and advocates to gather promising practices that can be replicated in communities around the world. Soon we will launch some of our core workshops on Coordinated Community Response (CCR) via webinar.
Women’s NGOs like GRW are critical forces in protecting women’s rights during the pandemic. We must continue to demand that governments look at COVID-19 from a gendered lens, despite a world history of pandemics and disasters that have traditionally endangered women’s rights or diminished their priority. GRW is leading the way as an innovator, supporting people in crisis management so they can provide good service to their constituents and keep women safe in nearly impossible situations.
Our agility, our unwavering commitment to women’s human rights, and your support will continue to make Global Rights for Women a leader in the movement to end violence against women and girls.