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Counterproductive policy responses to the rise in domestic violence during quarantine

By Camila Gomez Wills

Source: German Rojas, Pixabay

The global rise in domestic violence (DV) cases has led to a wide range of responses. Celebrities and CEOs are donating funds and governments have scrambled to set up additional help lines and provide alternate forms of shelter that allow for social distancing. In the UK for example, there was a 700% spike in calls to the national DV helpline which catalyzed the use of hotel rooms for survivors.

The local government of Bogotá, Colombia’s capital city, has established a monthly economic stipend package for at least 350,000 poor families that will help them meet their needs while the stay at home orders are in place. The program is means tested: in order to qualify, households must be part of the national database of poor and vulnerable families. Additionally, to receive the funds, there can be no complaints of DV in the household. Purportedly, the idea of the policymakers was to discourage potential perpetrators from committing the abuse by altering their cost benefit analysis and setting up an additional negative consequence for their behavior. City officials perhaps thought that perpetrators would weigh in the loss of the local bailout funds as part of their decision-making process and abstain from abusing their family members.

This approach leaves out several important elements of DV. First, perpetrators may not consider the loss of the funds as a significant enough factor to alter their decision; in fact, the decision may not be rational at all and may not be substantiated by any economic calculations. Second, DV has been a historically under-reported crime that disproportionately affects women. If poor families in the city receive the message that they lose access to the funds if there are complaints of DV in their household, survivors have even more reason not to alert the authorities.

Instead of diminishing future cases of abuse during quarantine, the administration’s policy design will likely result in further lowering the rate of complaints and masking a problem that appears to be on the rise. Although the concern about the increase in cases of DV is warranted, the response is inadequate and does not serve the program goals. To protect potential victims and increase the probability of reporting the abuse, governments should not link the disbursement of aid packages to the absence of a crime.

If the condition is removed, it is crucial that the administration embark on an extensive communications campaign which assures that all poor families qualify and that city officials stand by survivors of DV. This may cause confusion among beneficiaries who, only a few weeks ago, were exposed to a very different narrative that clearly stated that no stipend would be received in cases where DV has occurred. All in all, the misstep of Bogotá’s decision-makers can be an example of what not to do in the face of the pandemic and can serve as a warning for other cities that are designing and implementing their own economic aid packages.


Camila is a Colombian attorney focused on worker well-being in global supply chains, responsible sourcing, and modern slavery.


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