Reportage. At a network of domestic violence centers run by the organization Dire in Italy, there have been 70% more requests for help than average. But promised funds have been slow to arrive.

Experts worry about domestic violence victims trapped inside

In the first days of the lockdown, when the doors of our homes were shuttered by government decree, the phone lines of the anti-violence centers became unnaturally quiet. However, it was hard to believe that domestic violence, a phenomenon that has taken on alarming proportions in Italy, had suddenly disappeared. The heartbreaking likely explanation was that the lockdown had not only closed our doors, but had also silenced the voices of women living with a violent partner.

As the days passed, however, the issue re-emerged into attention. According to the surveys carried out in the period from March 2 to April 5 in 80 anti-violence centers throughout the country, the number of requests for help actually increased when compared to the data available for the same period in 2018. In fact, as the ground-level analysis of the Dire network tells us, 2,867 women made use of their telephone support numbers, an increase of 74.5% compared to the average. However, worries remain, because there was a strong decrease in the number of new cases, i.e. women who come into contact with support services for the first time, which are now only 28% of the total, while they normally made up two-thirds of the recorded cases.

“In the first two weeks, there was a dramatic drop in reports. The information was unclear, and many thought the centers had ceased operations. Then, we did a national campaign, drawing the media’s attention to this issue and saying that #noicisiamo [#wearehere], and the phones started ringing again,” explains Mariangela Zanni from the Centro Progetti Donna in Padova.

An analysis on a sample consisting of the data coming from four centers in Emilia Romagna (Lugo, Ferrara, Modena, Reggio Emilia) shows a percentage increase in requests for shelter, and especially in the requests for shelter coming from an emergency situation. On March 24, as a result of an agreement with Ms. Lamorgese, the Minister of the Interior, Elena Bonetti of Pari Opportunità sent a memo to the prefectures with the request to identify facilities—such as hotels currently lying unused—which are to be made available to accommodate women in dangerous situations.

“Here, in the territory of Veneto, no dialogue has been started on this issue,” says Zanni. “We are managing emergency situations by renting holiday homes, or—here in Padua—by paying for rooms in welfare hotels. All the costs are borne by the centers. Some women who don’t have an official residence because they are forced to change municipalities or because they only recently arrived in Italy don’t even have access to the economic support measures launched by the government.” The economic pressure on the anti-violence centers is very high during these weeks.

Even though €30 million from regular funding were officially disbursed by a decree of the Ministry dated April 2, and an additional €3 million have been allocated with the Cura Italia program, nothing has yet arrived in the territories, and the continuity of the services is guaranteed mainly thanks to donations.

“Calculating based on 2018 data, we can see that the state makes available about €0.76 per day for every woman who is in the process of escaping from violence. The funds were increased in 2019, but we are living at the mercy of the constant delays in payments,” Mariangela Zanni concludes.

“Some prosecutor’s offices, such as the one in Trento, have signaled that orders of removal of violent partners from the home will be employed, measures that already existed but were little used,” explains Elena Biaggioni, a criminal law attorney working for the Dire network.

“However, one should be careful to avoid focusing communication exclusively on cases of serious physical violence. Many women are being mistreated, controlled and verbally abused before their lives are put in danger. For this reason, the activity of the centers as front-line counseling providers is of fundamental importance.”

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