COVID19: A Battle Outside or Inside Home?
Updated: May 17
These two words are something many of us have only heard of. To some, however, it’s a phrase that resonates with them. This form of violence exhibits itself across several facets – spanning within the boundaries of physical and emotional abuse to spouses and children to marital rape and sexual abuse.
According to UN Women’s Global Database, 28.8% of women in India are on the receiving end of domestic violence, with cases of sexual abuse ranking higher than all other forms. Similarly, 22% of the men are reportedly subject to the same, with emotional and physical violence being at the forefront of their issues.
These statistics, however, were reported before the global lockdown issued after the outbreak of COVID-19. The stories post-quarantine seem to chart the same course of action, mapping the same tale in variations. As countries fall like dominos to lockdown protocols, it takes ten days before helplines see a spike.
What is alarming, however, is not the fact that the helplines have seen a spike initially. What is more disturbing is that the calls have gradually begun to diminish.
Initially, distress calls are made by spouses because they or their children are victims of abuse at home through the various facets explored above (with or without physical violence). Starting in China, the trends began to continue as the COVID-19 pandemic spread to Europe; the “Shadow Pandemic” (as termed by UN Women) spread to Italy, Spain, France, UK, US, and finally, India.
Across the globe, commentators, celebrities, and humanitarians had raised concerns at the start of quarantines that confinement at home with an abusive partner is likely to result in greater physical and emotional violence against women, with disastrous consequences for their health and well-being.
The Guardian commented that Dame Vera Baird QC, the victims’ commissioner for England and Wales, told MPs at the remote session: “Counting Dead Women has got to a total of 16 domestic abuse killings in the last three weeks. We usually say there are two a week, that looks to me like five a week, that’s the size of this crisis.”
Mounting data suggests that during the initial weeks of the lockdown (primarily within the first two weeks that a country’s government issues a quarantine statement), domestic abuse seems to be more of an opportunistic infection than the virus itself, prospering in the stipulations designed by the pandemic.
According to Marianne Hester (a Bristol University sociologist who studies abusive relationships), “Domestic violence goes up whenever families spend more time together, such as the Christmas and summer vacations, she said.” The virus has allowed for the creation of a new pandemic - one deemed as “intimate terrorism” - with no escape. More women have been killed in acts of domestic murder than ever before - a fact made abundantly clear through statistic sheets such as the “Counting Dead Women Campaign.” These statistics, in turn, elicited Secretary-General António Guterres’ tweet, “I urge all governments to put women’s safety first as they respond to the pandemic.”
Women all over the world began to seek shelter in pharmacies, using the code word “mask-19” to indicate that they were in an environment of abuse. This apparent publicisation of the code by news agencies (CNN) however, may have in turn made the situation worse by exposing the victim’s motives to the abuser, thereby being banned from even visiting pharmacies to seek help.
Many European civic bodies have tried their best to aid individuals in danger. The French government announced that it would pay for 20,000 nights in hotel rooms for victims of domestic violence. These measures, however, are not enough.
Refuge - a United Kingdom charity providing specialist support for women and children experiencing domestic violence - said one of the biggest concerns is that victims may find themselves unable to report their ordeal.
This is prevalent in Italy and India, wherein helplines have received less than 55% of their usual calls because people are unable to talk over phones with their abusers in the same house. In rural India, many victims of abuse lack access to helplines and online chatbots to report issues. Organisations such as the National Commission for Women (NCW) and the International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care (PCVC) have said that weeks after the lockdown, they are only receiving up to 4 calls a week, which is a drastic drop from the usual 10 - 15.
Similarly, in New York, the Police Department said that reports of domestic violence have “progressively declined” since the onset of the pandemic. The crimes, which include beatings, break-ins, and killings primarily among couples and families, fell nearly 15 percent last month compared to March 2019.
With the world’s primary focus being on the battle outside of our homes, it is crucial to consider the deafening taciturnity behind the domestic violence helplines. The silence has elicited violence, and if the quarantine extends for longer, the virus will not be the only thing mounting immense numbers of global deaths.
Author : Alekhya Bhat