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‘For many home is not a safe place’: Fears of domestic violence in Germany due to coronavirus lockdown

With families across Europe confined to their homes to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, fears are rising of a surge in domestic violence.

'For many home is not a safe place': Fears of domestic violence in Germany due to coronavirus lockdown
Photo: picture alliance/dpa

From Berlin to Paris, Madrid, Rome and Bratislava, associations that help victims of domestic violence have sounded the alarm after Europe overtook China to become the epicentre of the pandemic.

“For many people, their home is already not a safe place,” says the German federal association of women's counselling centres and helplines (BFF). But the stress caused by social isolation is exacerbating tensions and increasing “the risk of domestic and sexual violence against women and children”, the association warns.

And the risks are not limited to homes where violence was already a problem before.

What's the latest on coronavirus in Germany and what do I need to know?

On top of the stress caused by confinement, fears around job security and financial difficulties are also increasing the likelihood of conflicts.

“It's putting a lot of pressure on households,” says Florence Claudepierre, head of the FCPE parents' federation in the Upper Rhine, a region hit hard by the pandemic in France. She said she is hearing stories of “parents who are cracking, who can't carry on” in families that have not previously had any problems.

In China, which is slowly emerging from several weeks of total lockdown, the women's rights organisation Weiping has reported a threefold increase in reports of violence against women.

In Spain, which has the second-worst outbreak in Europe after Italy, a 35-year-old mother of two was murdered by her partner last week.

'Where can I go?'

Elsewhere, help centres have noted a drop in calls for help — which is not necessarily seen as a good sign either.

For children, young people and women who are victims of domestic violence — mental or physical — the current situation means “being constantly available” for abuse by the perpetrator, the German federation stresses.

Decisions to shut down schools, sports clubs and youth centres are important to curb the spread of the virus and prevent hospitals from being overrun, acknowledges Rainer Rettinger, who heads a German child protection association.

But “who is seeing and hearing abused children today?” he asks.

“Now violence, too, has been confined. That's what we're afraid of,” says Martine Brousse, head of Parisian organisation La Voix de l'Enfant (The Child's Voice).

As governments pour billions into their economies and health services, they should “not lose sight of the importance of equality and fundamental human rights,” Beatrice Fresko-Rolfo, the general rapporteur on violence against women for the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe, pointed out recently.

Domestic violence associations are facing a double-edged sword: With many social workers having to work from home, they are unable to reach victims; and when people need to be brought to safety, there are often not enough places in the refuges.

“Women have called us and told us they are experiencing violence at home. They are asking: Where can I go?” says Canan Gullu, from Turkey's federation of women's organisations.

In Germany, families minister Franziska Giffey has called on municipalities to organise alternative reception facilities if necessary, while neighbouring Austria provides guaranteed places in women's refuges or the removal of violent family members from quarantined households.

In the countries with the strictest lockdowns, such as Italy, victims are exempt from some of the rules — such as the requirement to carry a document justifying why they are leaving their home — if they need to visit a refuge centre.

“The current situation is unprecedented,” says Adriana Havasova, a psychologist from Bratislava.

She hopes the confinement will be limited to two or three weeks.

If it goes on for several months, “I can't imagine how much more domestic violence could increase,” she warns.

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HEALTH

EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

Due to high Covid infection numbers throughout the summer, it’s now possible to get a sick note from a doctor over the phone again for some illnesses. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

What’s happened?

In spring 2020, German authorities changed the law so that people with a mild upper respiratory tract illness, such as the common cold, were able to get an incapacity to work certificate or AU-Bescheinigung by simply calling and speaking to their GP.

The rule was extended several times and finally reversed on June 1st this year due to falling infection figures. Since then people have had to go back to the practice – or do a video call if the doctor’s office has that system in place – to get a sick note.

Now, due to a decision by the Joint Federal Committee, the regulation has been reintroduced and patients can call their GP again for a sick note.

Can I get a sick note over the phone for any illness?

No. As before, the regulation only applies to patients suffering from a mild upper respiratory tract illness. Though Covid has not explicitly been named in the announcement, it seems that it is intended to be covered by the regulation.

If the doctor is convinced that the patient is unfit for work after a telephone consultation, then they can issue a sick note for up to seven days.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The changes around doctor’s notes in Germany you should know

If the symptoms persist after seven days, the certificate can be extended once more for another week.

Why now?

According to the Chairman of the G-BA, Josef Hecken, the regulation has been introduced now as a response to rising Covid numbers and in anticipation of the cold and flu season in the coming months: “We want to avoid full waiting rooms in doctors’ offices and the emergence of new infection chains,” he said.

The telephone sick leave rule is a simple, proven and uniform nationwide solution for that, he said. The rule is also necessary because video consultation hours are not yet available everywhere.

What else should I know?

The health insurer DAK is calling for telephone sick leave in the case of light respiratory diseases to be made possible on a permanent basis in Germany. DAK’s CEO Andreas Storm said that this should “not always be up for debate, because it has proven itself.” 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Germany

The social association VdK also welcomed the reintroduction of the rule. The VdK’s President Verena Bentele said that the regulation would help to protect high-risk groups in particular from potential infections.

What are the rules to know about sick notes in Germany?

Germany has a strict system in place. If you are sick, you need to give your employer a Krankmeldung (notification of sickness) before the start of work on the first day (of your illness).

However, you also need to hand in a Krankschreibung (doctor’s note) on the fourth day of your illness. Some employments contracts, however, require you to submit a sick not earlier than the fourth day so check with your boss or HR on that point. 

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