Domestic Violence Amid Corona Pandemic Is Increasing Manifold
The Federal Ministry of Human Rights has issued COVID-19 Alert providing a helpline 1099 and a WhatsApp number 0333 908 5709 to report cases of domestic violence during the lockdown. The alert reads:
- Do you feel unsafe at home?
- Are you experiencing violence?
- Have you witnessed violence?
Contact toll-free helpline if you need help or would like to report an incident.
The alert also shows a haunting photo of a girl child who looks very upset and has likely experienced or witnessed domestic violence.
The Ministry of Human Rights has not shared any information about cases of violence against women or children reported through the helpline yet. Data quantifying the true scale of domestic violence has always been challenging to collect in Pakistan. Even with a significant rise in reports of domestic violence in other countries, we haven’t seen increase in domestic violence reports in Pakistan. This is not because domestic violence is happening less frequently, but because it is now even harder for victims to report it. Victims likely do not feel safe asking for help by phone or text with their abuser beside them at home. The United Nations has already warned that women in poorer countries and smaller homes are likely to have fewer ways to report abuse.
A group of mental health professionals providing online therapy sessions say that they have seen a rise in the cases of domestic abuse in the wake of the COVID-19 lockdown in Pakistan, according to a report published by The News. A challenge for the providers is retaining their clients, who say that patients are unable to attend their online sessions regularly. They are afraid to talk to the counselor while the husband and other family members are at home.
One out of three women in the world experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, according to World Health Organization, ‘making it the most widespread but among the least reported human rights abuses’.When women experience violence, entire families and communities suffer. In fact, violence against women impacts entire economies and countries.
The increased threat of violence to women and children was a predictable side effect of the coronavirus lockdowns. Increased abuse is a pattern repeated in emergencies, natural disasters, wars, economic crisis or during disease outbreaks. This also holds true for the coronavirus pandemic. In China, recent statistics confirm that the number of domestic violence cases reported to the local police tripled in February (at the height of the coronavirus crisis) in comparison to the previous year, according to Axios news website.
Stay-at-lockdowns in response to the coronavirus crisis have brought dramatic increases of domestic violence reports all over the world. According to The Guardian, in the first five days after people were ordered to stay indoors in Tunisia, calls to a hotline for women abuse increased fivefold. Reuters report, “calls to a state-run hotline website has seen a 12.5% percent increase in Spain while online consultations of the helpline’s website grew by 270%.” In the UK, calls to the national abuse hotline went up by 65 percent. In Cyprus, reports of domestic violence have almost doubled (as of April 3). In Turkey, the police’s emergency line is overwhelmed with outbreak emergencies, and many women fail to get through to a responder or receive adequate assistance.
Thus the evidence shows as the coronavirus continues to creep across the globe and governments respond with social control measures, victims of domestic violence, most often women, face a double threat: a deadly virus outside and an abuser at home. Being confined to home because of coronavirus is difficult for everyone, but it becomes a real nightmare for female victims of gender-based violence.
Social distancing and self-isolation are being used as a tool of coercive and controlling behavior by perpetrators and have shut down routes to safety and support. Women and children who live with domestic violence have no escape from their abusers during quarantine, especially in countries where social services are poor or nonexistent and where housing situations are deeply insecure. Children are also suffering in these circumstances as witnessing abuse can take the same toll on young people’s mental health as actually being abused themselves.
BBC News (March 31) reports that husbands justify the acts of violence in several ways. One woman from India told that her husband rationalized it by citing financial depression due to lockdown. The schools are closed; children are at home for indefinite periods of time. Husbands complain that children begin to irritate them. Usually they save their anger for wives, but sometimes they begin to beat or yell at children for minor things which makes equally disturbing to children and the mother.
Even in normal circumstances, women have a hard time being heard. The current crisis makes it even more difficult for victims to seek help. People who were already in an abusive situation will likely find themselves facing more extreme violence. They can no longer escape by going to work or seeing friends. They have less access to community support. Many victims also feel that they can no longer seek refuge at their parents’ home, for fear that they could expose their elderly parents to the virus. For some, travel restrictions may limit their ability to stay with loved ones. For many women, the fear of contracting the coronavirus is stopping them from seeking out medical care after experiencing physical abuse.
Imagine living in fear of the person who shares your home. Every day is a waking nightmare of criticism, name-calling, disliking food you cook, disapproving of your household chores, controlling what you eat and wear, and physical violence on top. Now imagine that you’re trapped inside with this person while the world is grappling with an ongoing health crisis of COVID-19.
In many countries there have been calls for legal or policy changes to reflect the increased risk to women and children in quarantine. Several governments are trying to address rising need by allotting further funds for services as economic pressure grows. Safety advice and planning for those experiencing domestic abuse are being included in the national government recommendations on COVID-19. The United Nations has called for urgent action to combat the worldwide surge in domestic violence. “I urge all governments to put women’s safety first as they respond to the pandemic,” Secretary General Antonio Guterres wrote on Twitter on April 5. He asked all governments to make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of their national response plans for coronavirus crises.
As the world continues to battle the coronavirus crisis, those living in dangerous situations must not be forgotten. Anyone experiencing domestic violence should be able to access immediate and appropriate support—not trapped with their abusers for weeks. The government, NGOs and people should consolidate their efforts in the fight against the social risks the pandemic is creating at many levels.