Support groups and individuals in Japan have raised the alarm that measures to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus in Japan may fuel domestic violence, as victims remain stuck at home with no avenues of escape.
The All Japan Women's Shelter Network, a nonprofit organization that provides care and assistance to domestic violence survivors, has submitted a letter urgently requesting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his government to give better support to victims amid an increase in teleworking and calls on people to refrain from going out.
While calling for an increase in consultation helplines and child protection facilities, the organization is also requesting that those fleeing from abusive homes are able to receive money directly if they belong to households qualifying for special pandemic-related economic assistance. Such payments would normally be made to the person designated as head of the household under Japan's family registration system, who is customarily the husband in a family.
The letter dated March 30 was also addressed to Seiko Hashimoto, minister in charge of women's empowerment, and health minister Katsunobu Kato, and contained reports made by women to the organization's consultation centers.
One was quoted as saying, "My husband started working from home and my children were out of school, so my husband became stressed and began to physically assault us."
Another called for the group to establish a members-only social media website for consultations since they were afraid to take the train to attend in-person counseling due to the virus.
In response to the letter, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference Tuesday that the government was considering ways to strengthen the support systems already in place.
"We hope to also expand and improve our consultation services," he said.
Separately, a social worker has launched a petition on Change.org calling for Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike to establish emergency shelters for the homeless and those fleeing domestic abuse, due to fears that countermeasures to stem the spread of the virus will result in the temporary closure of internet cafes and similar facilities.
That means homeless people and abuse victims who normally seek refuge in such places will then have nowhere to go, the campaign organizer said.
The petition, which has already attracted over 29,000 signatures, also calls for the implementation of government-run consultation lines.
A report released by the Tokyo metropolitan government in January 2018 indicated that around 4,000 homeless people per day in Tokyo use internet cafes and other similar facilities to stay the night, according to the organizer.
An operation ban on internet cafes would also increase the risk that teenagers, particularly girls, will be involved in crime and subjected to sexual abuse, since the facilities are commonly used by teenagers who need to escape a life of abuse and neglect but cannot afford a hotel.
U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres has urged governments to ensure that prevention of violence against women and girls will be a key part of their COVID-19 countermeasures, citing a "horrifying global surge in domestic violence" in the wake of lockdowns responding to the pandemic.
The U.N. reported that domestic violence has tripled in China since the pandemic, while internet searches on the topic in Australia are at their highest level for the past five years.
"For many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest: in their own homes," Guterres said in a video posted to his official Twitter account Monday.
"Together, we can and must prevent violence everywhere, from war zones to people's homes, as we work to beat COVID-19," he said.