Although home is a safe place for some, it is not a safe space for all. In fact, with COVID-19 lockdown in place, there has been a surge in instances of domestic violence. All over the world, victims of domestic abuse are more vulnerable and at risk of brutal attacks. Corresponding to the National Commission for Women (NCW), which receives complaints of domestic attacks from across India, the number of registered gender-based attacks have witnessed more than twofold rise during the nationwide lockdown period due to Coronavirus.
India has a patriarchal set up wherein it became an acceptable norm to abuse women. The causes for the crimes against women are many, but the occurrence of domestic brutality begins from the patriarchal set up in the society. The National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) categorizes its cases in different states. Recent statistics released by the organization suggests that Uttarakhand recorded the largest number of domestic violence cases in the last two stages of lockdown. Haryana ranks on second rank and Delhi on the third.
According to the NCW Chief Rekha Sharma, “the prime reason for the rise of domestic violence is that the men are at home and they are taking out their frustration on women and they refuse to participate in domestic work. Women are also confined within the four walls of the house and they cannot share their grief with anybody. The victims are scared of complaining to the police because they fear that harassment will increase.” Sharma further adds, “Most of the complaints are coming via email. My team is working 24/7 and we are shifting the victims to hostels or help them reach their parents’ home or relatives.”
The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act is a commendable legislation. It contemplates and recognizes wider forms of violence against women. Prior to this Act all other instances of domestic violence within the household were dealt with under the offences of violence and were constituted under the IPC with no regard to the gender of the victim. This posed a problem where the victims were children or women and were dependent on the assailant.
However, the situation of an increase in cases of domestic violence is not unique to India. The lockdown has brought the world to a standstill. The lives of women across the globe, who are in an abusive relationship, have also come to a halt. The same violence is repeated and perpetrated frequently, and on a regular basis during the lockdown. The other contributory factors to this issue are stress and unemployment, frustration, reduced income, limited resources, alcohol abuse and limited social support.
Besides physical abuse, victims of domestic violence can face several physical and mental health difficulties such as the risk of chronic disease, depression, sexual disorders, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and substance abuse. Disconnection from social support systems is one of the many reasons for an increased risk of domestic violence during these times.
Various domestic violence NGOs and institutions all over the world are working constantly to handle this issue. For example, Invisible Scars, an NGO trying to help domestic violence victims, has observed a surge in complaints. In case of physical domestic brutality, depending upon the severity of the abuse, they guide the victims on how to register a complaint with the police. Its founder Ekta Viveck Verma says,” We encourage victims to speak to someone if they are hesitant to approach the police. This is done after considering the details of the abuse in past and in the present.
Mpower 1 on 1 is another example. It is a newly launched helpline in Mumbai to report domestic abuse. Dr Ambrish Dharmadhikari, psychiatrist and head of medical services at Mpower says that his team counsels victims on the phone and encourages them to report to the police if the counselling doesn’t help. “But the tragic part is, the police are busy enforcing the lockdown to curb the spread of Coronavirus,” says Dharmadhikari.
The violence of domestic abuse is worse in the lower sections of society. Psychologist Padma Rewari says that her own domestic help has an abusive, alcoholic husband. Now going without liquor and squeezed up in a compact area, he has become more violent. For victims like her, there are NGOs like Stree Mukti Sanghatan for aid. The women can access free counselling and use the online facility for reporting the crime. The victims of physical abuse may find it useful to have a security plan in case the violence escalates. This includes having a neighbour, friend or relative or shelter identified to go to in a situation when they need to leave the house immediately for safety.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), an international agency for sexual and reproductive health, has estimated that there would be 31 million more incidents of domestic violence worldwide if lockdowns continue for another six months. It is critical that all individuals are protected in present and in the future. People with prior abusive, aggressive tendencies, anger management problems must work on keeping their stress as low as possible. Practising self-care like meditation, limiting media exposure, taking up online impulse control programs or seeking guidance and support through counselling can put them in a better place.
In Spain’s Canary Islands, the Institute for Equality has launched a campaign called Mascarilla-19 (Mask-19), stressing that escaping abuse is a valid reason to leave your home. Pharmacies are widespread and among the few places people can still freely visit.”When a woman experiences violence at home or sexual assault, she can go to the nearest pharmacy and request Mask-19 – the mask that will save her life,” says Kika Fumero, who came up with the idea. The pharmacy staff will note down the details of the woman such as name, address and phone number and alert the emergency services. She can either go back home or wait until police and support workers arrive. Such campaigns can be launched in all countries to establish a safe word and a system for individuals who require help and lack the measures to seek it.
This is a traumatic time for all. However, it is at times of trouble that we develop creative measures to handle situations and identify alternative solutions. We all are together in this and this is what should unite us rather than dividing us. It is solely by coming together can we combat this situation and keep ourselves safe.