At the moment, the world is fighting against COVID-19 – a novel coronavirus which is spreading quickly around the globe.

Victim Support Europe is committed to supporting individuals and organisations in these challenging times and to providing all the necessary information on the topic.

On this page, you can find general information about COVID-19 as well as coronavirus-related crime, advice for victims of domestic violence, resources for providing distance support services, and much more.

COVID-19: General information

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus.

Most people infected with the COVID-19 virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment.  Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer are more likely to develop serious illness.

The best way to prevent and slow down transmission is to be well informed about the COVID-19 virus, the disease it causes and how it spreads. Protect yourself and others from infection by washing your hands or using an alcohol based rub frequently and not touching your face.

Source: WHO

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water, or clean them with alcohol-based hand rub. This is how to do it properly:

 

  • Maintain at least 1 metre distance between you and other people
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Stay home if you can
  • Cough and sneeze into your elbow
  • Refrain from smoking and other activities that weaken the lungs

 

What should I do if I think I am infected?

  • Stay at home if you feel unwell
  • Call your doctor
  • If you have difficulty breathing, seek help immediately
  • In case of emergency, call 112 if in the EU (or check the emergency numbers here).

Get your information from reliable sources:

Coronavirus-related crime

Unfortunately, there are criminals who use the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity for their activities. At the moment, Europol and Interpol have identified three main areas of coronavirus-related crime:

  1. Cybercrime: with many more people staying at home and especially working from home, there is a heightened risk of security breaches, hacking, and fraud. There are even fraudulent websites and apps posing as coronavirus trackers which are in fact phishing attacks or scams.Interpol also reports phone fraud where criminals call victims pretending to be clinic or hospital officials, who claim that a relative of the victim has fallen sick with the virus and request payments for medical treatment. Do not send any payments to anyone you do not know and verify all the information you receive through phone or online. Follow Europol’s advice below to make sure you are protected:

  2. Fake cures and medicine: there is no known cure for COVID-19 at the moment. There is also no vaccine. Do not buy anything sold as any type of medicine or remedy against coronavirus as it is fake. Europol reports thousands of seized counterfeit pharmaceuticals and medical devices seized as well as thousands of websites taken down.
  3. Organised property crime: it has been reported in various Member States that perpetrators gain access to private homes by impersonating medical staff providing information material or hygiene products or conducting a “Corona test” with the intention of theft and robbery. Remain vigilant and do not let anyone you do not know in. If you have become victim of any type of crime, please consult our interactive map of victim support organisations and seek support. 

You can consult Europol for the latest updates on coronavirus-related crime. Here you can find further examples of such crimes.

 

Domestic violence concerns during lockdown

Those living in a situation of domestic violence might be going through an extremely difficult time at the moment. There are already indicators that cases of domestic violence are on the rise. Being under lockdown with one’s abuser is not only unpleasant but dangerous, particularly taking into account the fact that victims of domestic violence have very limited options when it comes to receiving help and support under a lockdown. However, many organisations continue to provide services during the pandemic through telephone helplines, online support through various websites and applications, and in some cases even face-to-face support.

What should I do if I am a victim of domestic violence?

  • In case of immediate danger, call 112 if in the EU (or check the emergency numbers here).
  • Speak to a trusted friend, relative, or neighbour: you might want to agree on a safe and quick way to communicate with them if there is an emergency (it could be a safe word or an emoji). Keep your phone charged and on you.
  • Create a safety plan: try to come up with an escape plan should you need one. Think how you could leave your place and where you could go. If you can, let a trusted person know. You may want to use a template, such as this Personalized Safety Plan.
  • Seek help and support: you can consult VSE’s interactive map of victim support organisations here. The 116006 helpline is available in Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and Sweden.
  • National women’s helplines available in 46 European countries

What should I do if I suspect someone I know is a victim of domestic violence?

If you think someone you know might be a victim of domestic violence, there are steps you can take. Try to look out for physical (bruises, black eyes, red or purple marks on the neck) as well as emotional (the person may appear fearful, weak, anxious) signs of potential abuse. The most important step you can take is being there for them and letting them know that you are available to talk or listen. If your suspicions are confirmed, report abuse to the police.

Here is some additional information on recognising domestic violence and helping victims find the help and support they need:

Coping with anxiety and isolation

Staying at home during a national lockdown or quarantine can be challenging for everyone, especially for victims of crime who may be particularly vulnerable in such circumstances. It is important to take care of your mental and physical health, set up and follow routines that work for you, and stay in touch with your loved ones. Here are some additional tips that may be useful during this time:

  • Establish a routine, whether you are working from home or not. It is important to have a structure to your day. Try to wake up at the same time and prepare for your work day the same you would if you were going to the office.
  • To help reduce stress and anxiety, it is important to to take care of your physical health by exercising at home. Here are some ideas for easy to follow home workout sessions.
  • It is also crucial to take care of your mental health by limiting your media consumption, practicing mindfulness and meditation, or keeping a gratitude journal.
  • Find a healthy balance in relation to media coverage: it is important to stay informed but consuming too much media can lead to more anxiety.
  • If you feel like you need some external help in managing the situation, there are many online listening, counseling, and therapy services. For instance, you could try one of the following programs: 7 cups, Talkspace, or betterhelpE-counseling.com, a platform which provides information and resources for mental health, offers an up-to-date, detailed overview of all major online therapy services, including their advantages and disadvantages, as well as average prices.
  • Stay in touch with your friends and family using telephone, email, or voice- and video-calling platforms, such as Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom, etc.
  • If you have children, it is important to talk to them about coronavirus and provide them with accurate, factual information as well as give them a chance to ask any questions and ensure they understand what is happening and are not panicking:

Information for victim support professionals

Distance support services

Distance support services constitute an important part of victims support services. Today, in times of lockdowns and quarantines due to the coronavirus pandemic, supporting victims at distance is often the only way to get the necessary services to the victims. There are many ways to provide support without meeting a victim face-to-face, most notably through telephone helplines and online services (from specialised platforms to social media chats). Many VSE members provide distance support regularly and others are dealing with having to adapt to this new situation quickly. This section provides useful information on distance support. Please keep in mind that use of all online platforms must be GDPR-compliant.

Here are the guidelines on providing online services created by The Centre for Digital Youth Care and circulated by the European Commission.

Communication tools for online support (from the T@LK Handbook)

  • Email – an asynchronous online communication tool that allows the exchange of email messages between email accounts; it allows asynchronous communication, since there is a time lag in the interaction between the professional and the user (i.e., reading and replying
    to a particular email may not occur immediately after it is being written and sent). It is likely the most used tool to provide support, information and/or intervention via the Internet.
  • Online forms – an asynchronous communication tool that, after completion, allows to send requests for support, information and/or intervention via the Internet. Online forms are considered safer than emails to provide/receive support, information and/or intervention for victims of crime/violence
  • Chat – an online communication tool that allows the exchange of text messages in real time (synchronous communication) via the Internet. It can include the possibility of video call over the Internet. This synchronous communication can take place using existing software, such as Skype and Messenger, and/or chat services developed by/for a particular organisation to provide support, information and/or intervention via the Internet.
  • Video call – it is also a synchronous communication tool that allows the interaction between two or more people by using a camera and audio settings; it is possible to share and exchange audio and visual information. It may or not have added the possibility of exchanging text messages.
  • Website – a page or set of pages with diversified information, which can be accessed via computer and other devices with Internet access. Websites can also make available or have reference to other online communication tools (e.g. email, chat). Access can be free or restricted (i.e., requiring pre-registration or log in).
  • Apps – software that can be installed on smartphones and mobile devices, facilitating access to varied information. Like websites, apps can make reference to other online communication tools (e.g. email, chat).
  • Social Networks – virtual social structures of people and/or organisations, connected by one or more types of relationships, who share common values and goals via the Internet. Social networks are communication networks that involve symbolic language, cultural boundaries and power relations.

A support session via the Internet (or even an ongoing support process or follow-up delivered online) should be structured in a coherent way, including different and complementary steps:

 

Alternative platforms to use for online support

Strategies for online communication

  • Follow the ‘netiquette’ rules: introduce yourself, use appropriate language, reply as quickly as possible, do not use all caps, do not leave before finishing the session, saying goodbye, and waiting for the victim to do the same
  • Use presence techniques to compensate for lack of face-to-face contact: you may write your feelings, emotions, or other cues in brackets. This is called emotional bracketing. For instance, “I think it could be useful to come up with a safety plan (I am worried about your safety in this situation)”. More presence techniques are available in the handbook (pp. 86-88)
  • Listening – even if (or especially when) providing support online, it is very important to listen to the victim. While you are not able to hear them literally, it is important to allow enough time and ‘space’ for the person to express themselves, to clarify any potential misunderstandings, and not to assume the victims’ feelings. Active listening techniques, such as paraphrasing and summarising, can be very useful.

Further Resources

  1. Digital Services Toolkit
  2. How to Operate as a Remote Workplace During a Public Health Crisis
  3. Setting up a chatbot
  4. Additional software
  5. Making sure the services you are providing are GDPR-compliant: GDPR website
  6. A webinar by MHA: COVID-19 – How to Support Ourselves and Others Through Times of Fear and Isolation