Marseille club opens to victims of domestic violence
Battered women, their families find refuge during coronavirus pandemic in empty quarters of football stadium
The deadly novel coronavirus has forced millions of people around the globe to isolate themselves for weeks to prevent the spread of the highly infectious disease COVID-19. But for those experiencing domestic violence at home, doing so could have its own set of dangerous consequences.
Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak at the beginning of March, reports of domestic violence across France spiked. In the first few weeks of March alone, cases went up 36%.
In an almost angelic gesture, the Marseille Football Club, or L'Olympique de Marseille (OM), has started to house 18 women and their children this week at their Robert Louis-Dreyfus training center.
The women, all victims of domestic violence, will move into 46 available rooms in a wing of the center that customarily houses players.
The facility is located in Marseille in the Bouches-du-Rhone Department in southeast France and has been empty since France's lockdown began on March 17. Meals are provided by the club's catering service, and counseling services as well as security, cleaning, and logistics are offered to the women and children if needed.
The club is even allowing children to play with sports equipment that are sitting idle, and families to play on the empty field.
The assistance is provided by SOS Femmes, a domestic violence support group, along with the Bouches-du-Rhone police. In an interview with BFMTV, Valerie Secco, director of SOS Femmes Association 13, said she welcomed the outreach by OM.
"I thank OM and its president for this initiative. It was a team effort. When there are already tensions in the family environment, they risk being reinforced by confinement."
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said he understands the need for the measures, and also for increasing shelters for those in danger.
"We need to be able to respond with immediate solutions as soon as they are in our care," he said.
A helpline number of 3919 was set up in November 2019 for women to contact if assistance is needed, and a toll-free text messaging number to 114 was also put in place in early April.
Women can also receive help through designated pharmacies all over France to report their abuses. Some 400 pharmacies have stepped in to help.
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