Quarantine Breeds Domestic Abuse
……………..Domestic violence amid COVID 19
A home plays a vital role in any human life. Home is the place where we keep our families, where we feel safe and sound and where we enjoy complete freedom. Quoting down few impression of the word ‘Home’ stated by philosophers around the globe-
“Home isn’t where you’re from, it’s where you find light when all grows dark.”- Pierce Brown. “Peace that was the other name for home.”- Kathleen Norris. “Home is a shelter from storms- all sorts of storms.”- William J. Bennett.
Notice one common thread all the three quotes signaling to? Home being a sanctuary, a place holding special intimate spot in everyone’s heart. But is it for everyone…The coveted safe haven?
Shouldn’t our houses be the safest place to be in right now amid the corona pandemic? While many of us are trying to find a string of positivity in this whole thing which is to be spending increased family time, getting to bond with our loved ones, it was quite difficult for me to even imagine the other side is a pretty dark lane, one with monsters in it. United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres said something that has been vividly present in my memory- “For many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest- in their own homes,” Prof Marianne Hester, a Bristol University sociologist who studies abusive relationships says that domestic violence goes up whenever families spend more time together, such as the summer vacations and Christmas. Something positive about this pandemic is that it accentuates the flaws of the social, economic and political systems we live in and presents an opportunity to act on improving the systems. Hidden in the deluge of Covid-19 news stories are other, not unrelated, stories of the dangerous impact social distancing, self-isolating and quarantine may be having on our mental and physical health, especially for people in already abusive relationships.
Social distancing can cause stress and change in everyone’s behaviour. However there is never an excuse for domestic abuse, no matter what the circumstances are. Abuse is always wrong and should always be reported. Domestic abuse or Intimate terrorism are not always physical violence. It can also include, but is not limited to:
- coercive control and ‘gaslighting/ belittling’
- verbal abuse
- sexual abuse
- emotional abuse
- economic abuse
- online abuse, etc
Similar to Covid 19, it can happen to anyone, every age, every position, every occupation, and most domestic violence behavior patterns don’t happen just once. But often occurs repeatedly. In both rich and poor countries, domestic-violence rates have risen during lockdown periods.
Malala Yousafzai quotes “If you go anywhere, even paradise, you will miss your home” In this moment, going around or sliding though news feed, you will certainly see “stay at home” signs- Staying home to reduce the covid 19 spread, staying home to reduce the chance of becoming a victim to one. But for some people being at home becomes more likely to be a ‘victim’ of violence as there’s no escape anywhere, more like a purgatory.
With the extended orders of self-isolation (phrase 2 running in India as of April 2020) it has pushed the victims more into risky situations and have locked them in a trailer filled with fear and stress by their abuser. Hence it’s not surprising that the numbers of this violence are startling. For example, the number of domestic violence cases reported by Chinese police has tripled in February compared to the previous year. Or in Spain it has been reported that the number of domestic violence calls has increased by 18% during the first two weeks of the lockdown, and the CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, an agency that provides assistance to victims of violence in The United States itself said that this violence will increase as Americans stay indoors during the corona virus epidemic.
As we know when people are stressed it makes them do unconscious and shady things together. For example, a 2013 study by Professor at the Department of Health Economics from the University of Miami, USA states that the problem of unemployment is one of the key parameters of alcohol abuse. The WHO said that drinking too much can increase the rate of domestic violence. And in times of crisis like this going through an abusive relationship is even more difficult and complicated. Stress, alcohol consumption, and financial difficulties are all considered triggers for violence in the home, and the quarantine measures being imposed around the world will increase all three. Thus we can summarise :
Alcohol + enforced isolation + anger = Higher domestic violence risk.
‘Dil se dua, Saubhagyavati Bhava’…is a common blessing one is bestowed upon on the day of their marriage but ever cared to check or ask the effectiveness of such blessings? The World Health Organisations notes that while intimate partner violence is a harsh reality under normal circumstances, the cases escalate in times of crisis such as being in a conflict lockdown zone. An even more recent study situates intimate partner violence as a gendered impact of a natural disaster. The set of social distancing measures introduced during the novel corona virus crisis is yet another candidate for the list of crisis situations that negatively impact victims of intimate partner violence.
In a post of Outlook India magazine on 7th April 2020, Lachmi Deb Roy (Editor) reports that the complaints of domestic violence have doubled in India during the lockdown. The societal stereotypes about women’s roles in the household and the dependence of households on the domestic workers gives more reasons to abusers for venting out their frustrations in a violent manner. Not used to getting their hands dirty, many men are struggling to cope. They feel they are being bossed around, to do the dishes, wash their clothes. Their ego is getting bruised as men are unable to stand being told to help. While getting survivors to report their abusers is already a tricky task, the authorities as well as the NGOs around the world are finding it even more challenging to address this daunting issue during the lockdown, with women facing additional hindrances in seeking help and the risk of spreading the virus by further overcrowding shelter homes.
Where does this thought even come up from? Ok, thoughts are not under our control but aren’t our reactions to them in our control entirely? Are we mere animals with no sixth sense after all? I am only using the term animals because of a lack of a better word, even animals are kinder than we are as a species. ‘Monsters’ would be the right word for us. As a data science enthusiast and researcher myself, I shall be looking into quantitative information available. A few points, however, are already clear:
1. Domestic abuse, whether it’s reported to the police or goes unreported, is expected to rise massively during the lockdown.
2. Care and shelters for victims will be less available due to Corona-related concerns.
3. Legal and economical aid for victims will be less available due to decreases in funding, other priorities and the economic decline.
This lockdown could make the number of incidences of domestic violence skyrocket, as other disasters like Ebola and Zika have done in history. Contrary to common belief, the increase in violence doesn’t only happen in relationships that are already abusive. An Australian study after the Black Saturday bushfires concludes that even people who had never experienced violence before became victims. Domestic violence is about control. Abusers may use the outbreak to exert more control on their victims. Victims may be manipulated to believe their partner is only looking out for their health. They may not be allowed to see or talk to their friends or family. Victims may become isolated, putting them at a greater risk of physical and mental harm.
Judith Lewis Herman, a renowned trauma expert at Harvard University Medical School, has found that the coercive methods domestic abusers use to control their partners and children “bear an uncanny resemblance” to those kidnappers use to control hostages. Sad part is many victims have taken it as their destiny and are facing a psychological phenomenon called stockholm syndrome.
Women and children are like sitting ducks in homes with explosive and/or controlling, violent men. Many abusers have turned calculative regarding how to hurt their partner as they very well know now that she cannot get help, cannot go anywhere, has no resources, etc., and so they are free to abuse more and worse than they ever have been. Their mere knowledge of women’s and children’s lack of escape is a very dangerous thing in itself. Most governments are mandating lockdowns without plans to deal with the related spikes in domestic violence.
In Spain, with the help of women’s associations, The New York Times contacted many women stuck at home with an abusive husband/ partner and conducted interviews over WhatsApp. One of them, Stella (name changed) shares that her husband has been regularly abusing her amid lockdown. He insists on total surveillance at all times. If she tries to lock herself in a room, he kicks the door until she opens it. “I can’t even have privacy in the bathroom and now I have to endure this in a lockdown,” she wrote in a message sent late at night, to hide the communication from her husband. After her husband attacked her with the high chair, Stella limped to the next room and called the police. When they arrived, however, they only documented the attack and took no further action.
Next, she hired a lawyer and filed for divorce only to discover that the epidemic had cut off that avenue of escape, too. Her divorce proceeding was postponed until April. She is still waiting for the court’s decision. And finding a new home amid the outbreak proved difficult, plus she cannot stay with her friends or extended family right now. This has forced Stella and her daughter to continue to live with their abuser for weeks, as domestic violence shelter homes too are having severe limit to how many people they can take in. Jobs are utterly unavailable, especially for those who have not been in the job market recently, so leaving a marriage too is financially burdening.
This is a similar pattern playing out around the globe. Institutions that are supposed to protect women from domestic violence are mostly weak and underfunded to respond to this increased demand. Diverting resources from critical services that women rely on, such as routine health checks or gender based violence services, is something we should be very concerned about. Potential victims should have a safety plan with a list of people and their phone numbers they can call on in an emergency such as someone at violence against women hotlines, their local police department or supportive peers who might be able to help. Another thing that is helping some women is the ability to text people for help versus calling if the person who is abusing them is nearby.
Mindfulness and an increase in empathy creates a safety net for others to confide openly without any filters. We need to create an environment that is open for an individual to talk, about their sufferings and experiences they have endured. What most of us can do is to use our sensory organ, be alert and if found things hinting any violence, have the balls to intervene when events are spiraling down. Don’t put yourself in danger, don’t confront anyone, let the authorities handle it. This is especially important in the countries like USA where gun ownership is far higher than it is in India and is highly correlated to domestic abuse.
The National Commission for Women (NCW), which is the government body have received several complaints of domestic violence from all parts of India recording more than twofold rise in gender-based violence during this ongoing lockdown. This surge has made them to now launch a WhatsApp number 7217735372 to keep the texting option open for the victims. Apart from the front line workers working tirelessly to curb corona we must appreciate the quiet unsung state-based domestic violence lawyers and advocates, who are redoubling their efforts on behalf of abuse survivors, sometimes at personal risk to their own health, with or without hazard pay, by taking clients to court, meeting with them at hospitals, working with the courts to get the protections that are needed.
“Women speaking up for themselves and for those around them is the strongest force we have to change the world.”- Melinda Gates
Abuse is not gender specific, though the UN’s latest statistics show that women suffer more. Good population in human society is the basic principle for peace, prosperity and spiritual progress in life. Such population depends on the protection and safety of its womanhood. As children are very prone to be misled, women are similarly very prone to degradation. Therefore, both children and women require protection from their inmate abusers in order to achieve the ideal goal of living in a safe and civilized humane society.
“Remember, each one of us has the power to change the world.” — Yoko Ono. We need to speak up, come together and address this covert issue. As a race, we need to refine and simmer down our cruel nature to a large extent.
For I could use a dream or a genie or a wish, to go back to a place much simpler than this- A place which is violence immune! Corona is not an excuse.
WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER!
SUPPRESS CORONA, NOT YOUR VOICE
Follow me: www.linkedin.com/in/divyathakur2194