Coronavirus: Iranian domestic violence app users double

Countries have reported surge in domestic violence complaints during coronavirus lockdowns

Women use mobile application software on smartphone phone .
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An angry red gash down her chest one day, a dark mottled bruise on her arm the next.

The pictures, sent to a mobile application that supports domestic violence survivors in Iran, show the injuries sustained by a woman after being beaten by her husband at home.

Cases such as this have increased dramatically worldwide as coronavirus lockdowns force victims of violence to stay closed in with their abusers.

In some countries, the number of women calling support services has doubled, at a time when healthcare providers and police are already under enormous strain, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said this month.

Toranj is a mobile app with services include emergency calling, legal support advice, educational resources and a database of pro-bono counselling clinics in Iran.

It has added 847 new users in the past month, more than four times the 210 added in January and February combined.

Requests for help over social media and the phone have also increased since the pandemic took hold.

Many say that lockdown measures in Iran have exacerbated abusive situations.

"They are complaining that spending more time with their abuser makes the situation harder for them," Toranj's project manager, Shadi Sharifi. told The National.

Job losses caused by the pandemic are another reason many are spending more time with abusive partners or family members.

“They are becoming more financially dependent,” Ms Sharifi said.

Toran enables users to send alerts to selected contacts when they feel under threat. It has been downloaded more than 65,000 times.

But providing support in the current environment is challenging, Ms Sharifi said.

“Reaching victims is harder than before for shelters and our network team in Iran," she said.

"We stopped our workshop sessions and household visits, which were very practical ways for us to help victims.”

There has been a surge in domestic violence reports across the region since the coronavirus lockdowns began.

Rights groups have warned that the nature of the violence has also become more severe, pushing back hard-won gains in protection for victims.

“With the cases that are turning up at the shelters right now, we’re seeing a violence more severe than before the financial crisis and even during the revolution,” Ghida Anani, founder and director of women's shelter operator Abaad in Lebanon, told Reuters

This includes more death threats.

Calls to helplines in Lebanon have doubled compared to the same month last year, with domestic violence cases up by about 20 per cent.

In Jordan, the video of a victim describing her abuse under lockdown went viral and footage of a woman screaming in pain after being set on fire, allegedly by her husband, in Iraq has caused uproar.

The UN has appealed to governments to make women's safety a priority in their pandemic response plans, and push back against the "horrifying surge" in violence worldwide.