The Korea Herald


Pandemic, violence and women: What data doesn’t tell

Expert calls for measures to stop gendered violence during disasters when ordinary mechanisms fail  

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : April 24, 2022 - 19:22

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The shadow pandemic.

This is what the United Nations called violence against women in a November report last year, in which over two-thirds of women surveyed from 13 countries said that domestic violence has increased during the pandemic where they live.

The pandemic’s impact on women in South Korea is harder to gauge, as the country was not included among the surveyed countries in the report.

According to South Korea’s National Police Agency, arrests for domestic violence, which peaked in 2019 at 49,873, was down 10.8 percent in 2020, the first year of the pandemic. The tally for the first nine months of 2021 was slightly lower than the 2020 figure of the same period.

Counseling for domestic violence also decreased.

According to a March report by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, the total number of domestic violence counseling cases went from 421,916 in 2019 to 396,951 in 2020.

But local experts warn that the data may not be telling the whole story.

“We have to consider other factors, such as the fact that it is harder for the victims (of domestic violence) to report abuse during the lockdown,” said Kim Hyo-jung, an associate research fellow for the Korea Women’s Development Institute. The presence of the victims’ partners at home, who are in many cases the perpetrators of domestic violence, would have made it more difficult for them to report abuse, she added. 

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The expert went on to point out a notable trend in the data – a substantial increase in online reporting of domestic violence.

Cases more than doubled from 11,075 in 2019 to 24,313 the next year. Online reports took up 2.6 percent of the total in 2019, but went up to 6.1 percent in 2020, and 7.2 percent in the first half of 2021.

“We can see that there has been a change in the way (women) report abuse cases. Before COVID-19, most did it by visiting facilities or via phone, but more are opting to do it without any form of contact,” Kim said.

Another factor that should be considered is that the pandemic -- particularly during its early days -- affected the operations of shelters, call centers and report mechanisms for domestic violence victims.

Government-run bodies, including the 1366 Women’s Emergency Call Center, operate emergency centers for domestic violence victims. However, they operate as shared facilities.

Therefore, it was impossible for domestic violence victims to get help in the early days of the pandemic because these facilities were shut down.

Improved shelters and reporting mechanisms were also stressed in the November UN report as keys to alleviating the fallout of domestic violence.

“Efforts implemented since the onset of the pandemic to strengthen services – including shelters, hotlines and reporting mechanisms, psychosocial support, and police and justice responses to address impunity – must be maintained as a priority of recovery plans,” it read.

Kim stressed that further research on dealing with domestic violence must take place in the post-pandemic era, particularly with shelter operations and providing information on reporting mechanisms that the victims can rely on, no matter the circumstances.

“The medium of reporting domestic violence is gradually changing (to online), yet there are barriers for certain age groups. Relevant infrastructure must be established and promoted,” she said.

“We must ensure that the victims (of domestic violence) can receive help in whatever situation, whether it be a virus-induced pandemic or some other form of disaster.”

By Yoon Min-sik