How the lockdown is leading to surges in domestic violence worldwide
The global lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic has most of us struggling with a whole new lifestyle. While there are changing trends in the economy, environment, and working strategies -- a global increase in domestic violence has become a major concern.
In China, reports of domestic violence on migrant women have surged since people have been confined to their homes. The Australian government reports Google registered the most searches for domestic violence help in the past five years during the outbreak.
On the contrary, an Italian parliamentary committee reports the number of calls to the national domestic violence hotline dropped by 55% during the week of March 8-15 from the same period in 2019.
The report further explains the decline by hinting that many victims were unable to call hotlines without being detected by their abusers because of quarantine measures.
Why is domestic violence increasing?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the disruption of livelihoods and ability to earn a living decreases access to basic needs and services. As resources become scarcer, vulnerable women are experiencing economic abuse, finding it harder to leave abusive partners.
Perpetrators may use the lockdown situation to reduce access to psychosocial support and even necessary items such as food and hand sanitizer. They might also spread misinformation about Covid-19 measures.
Stress in this crisis makes abusers even more volatile, while heightened privacy gives them a feeling of impunity. Negative emotions born from stress often have violent outlets.
Many individuals in an abusive relationship escaped the abuse at work. Now there is no escape. Suffering alone in silence can lead to the victim having thoughts of self-harm.
Children are also suffering in these circumstances, as witnessing abuse can take the same toll on young people’s mental health. Ironically, in many parts of the world, domestic violence shelters have already stopped admissions, because they are unsure of how to manage the risk of infection.
Here is what you can do to address the situation:
Call helplines 109 and 1098
The national helpline for violence against women and children is 109. It is a toll-free number and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week from all parts of Bangladesh. You can report via messages too.
It offers services to victims of physical and sexual assault, sexual harassment, burns, and threats. The confidential service includes legal advice, police assistance, telephone counseling, referrals to other organizations service, and information regarding violence issues.
The child helpline is another toll-free number 1098, enabling anyone to report child rights violations, child abuse, exploitation, or any other act of disruption to the protection of children, the Department of Social Services suggests.
In recent times, report of child marriage has increased manifolds as many in rural areas are taking the opportunity of lockdown to force young girls into marriage.
Reach out to family and friends
There will be friends and family you can trust your experience with who can inform the authorities. Speak to neighbours you trust although not all neighbours could be trustworthy.
If you know a victim, reach out to them to stay connected, setting up regular check-in times.
If your friend is currently involved in a legal matter with an abusive partner, make sure they know legal centres that are still advising clients remotely. Without the right legal advice at the right time, one risks losing their home, safe arrangements for children, or a fair split of the family.
Decide a safety word
In Spain’s Canary Islands and France, women under risk can go to the nearest pharmacy and request “Mask-19,” a cue for call for help. Pharmacy staff take the woman’s name, address, and phone number and alert the emergency services.
Similarly, as a well-wisher, you could agree on a safe word that the person experiencing family violence can use to alert you that they need you to get help; for example, “a shortage of rice” or just “biscuits.” That way you can call even if the perpetrator can hear you.
List important contacts
Keep a list of important contacts you can call on in an emergency, like emergency transport, crisis accommodation centre, local police station. You can also have them on speed dial.
Increase your safety when you are using mobile phones or social media by setting stricter passwords. If possible, have a spare mobile phone to escape constant monitoring.
Ensure safety at home
Identify safe areas of the house where there are no threatening objects. If arguments occur, try to move to those areas.
Don’t run to where the children are, as your partner may hurt them as well.
If children are under risk, teach them the warning signs of danger. Additionally, identify a room children can go to when they’re afraid.
If violence is unavoidable, make yourself a small target. Experts suggest diving into a corner and curling up into a ball with your face protected and arms around each side of your head, fingers entwined.
Make a safety plan
Have an escape plan ready if you feel that it’s not safe to stay where you are.
Plan and practice the quickest way to leave. Leave spare keys and copies of important papers with someone you trust.
If you know someone is at risk, help them by putting away some money and ensuring they have access to a mobile phone with the contacts of emergency services.
You can offer to keep copies of important documents, like identification card, driving license, birth certificates, cheque, lease agreement in an escape bag.
The above strategies are easier to suggest than to act on. However, lockdown should not mean tolerance of violence or continuity of living with abusers.
I pen down this article in the hope of a world free from the crisis and the silent injustice.
Myat Moe Khaing takes an interest in indigenous and gender politics.