25-N

Three sexual assaults per week during confinement

Hospital Clínic warns that partners or ex-partners were behind one in five attacks between March and June

Archive image of one of the emergency rooms where victims of sexual assault are treated at the Hospital Clínic in Barcelona / LAURA FÍGULS / ACN

During the fourteen weeks of confinement, sexual violence was concentrated in the home and caused dozens of victims in Barcelona alone. Between March 15 and June 21, a total of 42 women and three men were victims of rape or grope. In 62% of the cases, the aggressor -who has always been a man- was someone known: people with whom they lived -whether they were partners or not, both voluntarily and forced by economic difficulties- who attacked as a method of abuse to regain control or even attacked their ex-partner taking advantage of a child visitation meeting.

The violence behind the door, including sexual violence, intensified during the nearly 100 days of strict confinement. Sixty percent of sexual assaults in the Catalan capital took place inside a home, 10% more than last year. In the spring months, with the alarm bells ringing, two thirds of the victims said they knew their attacker, often one of their closest friends and family, who had attacked them in a flat or house, often during a party that broke the lockdown rules. In this sense, Lluïsa García Esteve, head of the Comprehensive Care Program for Sexual Assaults at the Clinic, has warned of the risks of what she has called "clandestine leisure".

But one of the things that have surprised the researchers at the centre is the increase in assaults by couples and ex-couples, circumstances resulting from confinement. Between January and October 11% of the sexual assaults that brought the victims to the Hospital Clínic emergency department were committed by the partner or ex-partner, but if we only look at the months of lockdown (March to June), the percentage jumps to 18%. In 2019, this figure stood at 12%. "Homes can be a place of risk for some women who live with aggressors, those who are forced to do so by the economic crisis or those who have to contact them to hand over their children," said Dr Garcia Esteve.

Teresa Echevarria, night emergency coordinator at the centre, explained at a press conference that in these cases it is observed that sexual assault is accompanied by physical violence, which results in beatings and bruises, and also psychological violence.

Hospital Clínic, the reference health centre in Catalonia for the care of victims of sexual assault, attended 260 cases, 172 of which were rapes, between 1 January and 31 October. This means a 34% less than the same period last year, when 396 people were attended. The effect of the pandemic is clear: previously, between January and February, the number of urgent visits for sexual assault was on the rise, in line with the trend of 2019, which was the year with the most consultations (503).

It is once the state of alarm started that a decrease was observed (45 victims), coinciding with the limitation of mobility but also with a certain fear of going to medical centres to avoid catching covid. For this reason, the two doctors stressed that the hospital has a "differentiated circuit" to attend to victims of sexual aggression with full health and confidentiality guarantees. But sexual terror did not disappear either in homes or in the streets. Three of the victims attended by the Barcelona centre during confinement were homeless women who were attacked in the streets.

"In confinement, the chances of receiving help from the community are diminished and access to health facilities is made difficult"

Distance and the loss of the social network, they explain, increase the isolation and vulnerability of the victims. "At the same time, the chances of receiving help from the community are decreasing and access to health centres is becoming more difficult," they warn. After the end of lockdown, the number of cases started to rise again until it reached 112.

From 9 victims a week to 3

Before the crisis, Hospital Clinic estimates that, on average, about 9 sexual assault victims arrived at the hospital per week, i.e., there were days when more than one case was attended to. This is a frightening figure. With the state of alarm, arrivals at the emergency department decreased (3 per week), but they picked up again at the end of June (6), but stayed below cases registered before lockdown. Currently, with mobility restrictions and a curfew, the centre is attending two victims per week.

The majority of women (43.5%) arrive at the hospital on their own initiative or referred by a police station (31%). In the case of men, 34.6% are referred by the police and 7% go to the centre without wanting to inform of the cause at first. The upward trend in the number of people attended in A&E shows that more and more victims are aware of the need to go to hospital after an episode of sexual violence. In addition, up to 55% of the victims attended this year at the Clínic have been linked to the follow-up programme for the prevention and intervention of psychological consequences. In 2019, only 32% did so.

60% say they want to report

Hospital Clínic can attend to victims 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with professional teams specialised in health care and recovery after sexual violence. Its records are completed with the patient's witness (90% are women). However, it must be very clear that there is no profile of a victim of sexual assault: neither the age nor the place where the events occur or whether it was on a weekend or at night provide relevant information to establish a pattern.

One in two victims treated in the service was under 25 years old and, in fact, 10% were adolescents between 16 and 18 years old. All were girls. Last year, for the first time, the hospital recorded 16 rapes of underage girls, 5% of the total. This year there were 25. According to the Clinic's report, most of the assaults on adolescents were committed outside lockdown, but half of the victims knew their assailant(s). Around 11.5% of all the aggressions were group rapes, and in the case of minors this figure is already around 8%. These occur in "clandestine leisure".

260 sexual assaults

The Hospital Clínic has treated 260 victims, 172 of whom were raped, between 1 January and 31 October

Overall, 60% of those affected this year said that they wanted to bring their aggression to the attention of a court, 8% more than last year. For example, 70% of the women who were assaulted during the state of alarm said they wanted to report the incident, as did three out of four minors (76%). In the case of women who were abused or raped by their partners or ex-partners, 82% said they intended to report, a very high percentage in comparison with previous years. In the case of men, however, this percentage dropped to 50%.

When health professionals offer the victim the possibility of filing a report, the number of victims who express their intention to do so varies according to gender, age and time of the event. Especially among teenagers and younger women there is reluctance to go to the police station because they fear they will be accused of having "participated in an illegal party," said Garcia Esteve.

There are those who have to reflect before taking the step or are not fully aware of having been raped, and others who fear social and judicial questioning and are afraid they will not be believed. Furthermore, the Clinic can only know if the patient wants to report the incident when they are discharged.

On the other hand, 22.3% of the victims attended at the Clinic suspect that the aggressor drugged them to override their will and prevent them from remembering what had happened to them. By 2019, they accounted for 30% of the patients. These doubts about chemical submission are more common among men - 38.46% have suspected it, 5% more than last year - than among women, whose indicators have decreased in relation to 2019 from 28% to 15.8%.

El + vist

El + comentat