When the home is no longer safe
As lockdown, social distancing and movement restrictions continue, there is an alarming increase in domestic violence against women and children and se...
As lockdown, social distancing and movement restrictions continue, there is an alarming increase in domestic violence against women and children and several of the cases go unreported. With lack of proper support and intervention this takes an ugly turn leaving several of them vulnerable.
The unseen enemy may have brought the world to a grinding halt but the inner workings and failings of human beings continue in isolation. As a total lockdown and social distancing seem to be the only solution to tackle the COVID 19 crisis until the weary world comes up with one, the atrocities committed within the proximity of home are increasing alarmingly. Movement restrictions imposed to stop the spread of the virus are sadly making domestic violence against women and children more frequent, severe and dangerous when support is dwindling and governments are struggling to save lives. As conditions created by the pandemic help domestic violence flourish in most countries of the world, the call of the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres for urgent action to combat the world wide surge in domestic violence reflects the seriousness of the problem. Cases of women beaten and thrown out of their homes for coughing, those forced to scrub their hands till they are raw and those battered till they are broken, tug at our conscience across different settings. And these are only cases that are reported. The ones that go unnoticed are vast and heart wrenching. Speaking up and asking for ceasefire in conflicts around the world to focus on the shared struggle to overcome the virus, the Secretary General has said "Violence is not just confined to the battle field and for many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest: in their own homes".
As all countries developed and developing experience increase in domestic violence the observation made by Katie Ray Jones, CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline in the United States is most relevant. "Domestic violence is rooted in power and control and all of us are feeling a loss of power and control right now" she says. Law enforcers, advocates and courts are going to hear about scary stuff going on behind closed doors post COVID 19 she warns. In India the situation is bleak as well, since the support offered by regulatory agencies preoccupied with stopping people from leaving their homes and spreading the virus gets top priority. "Paucity of police personnel who are stretched to their limits working day and night to prevent the spread of the pandemic is hampering reporting, registering and action in cases of domestic violence. All existing cases of domestic violence get worse in an atmosphere where there is no support system and families are forced to stay indoors and endure violent behaviour' says MamataRaghuveer of theTaruni Resource Centre for women closely associated with the Bharosacentre established by the Telangana police to deal with violence against women. This is a fall out of circumstances created by the pandemic and is more visible in middle and lower middle class homes in towns and cities she feels. Most women of these categories cannot report cases as they share small home spaces and cannot seek help online lacking resources and connectivity. She foresees a rise in reporting of domestic violence, child abuse, trafficking and other evils post COVID 19 with women's development slowing down by 25 to 30 %. This was an apprehension expressed by women leaders in a "global conference of women' webinar in which she participated recently.
SumitraMakkapati Chief Functionary of Ankuram Women and Child Development Society believes that the situation thrown up by the pandemic has only worsened the condition of women subjected to domestic violence. "There is a lot of frustration among women who are victims of domestic violence as there is no way they can come out in the open with their problems. Cases of attempt to suicide and those where women are experiencing trauma are coming to us informally. Sakhi counseling centres for women established by the government in all districts are doing their best to rout emergency cases to police and medical sources but real help will be possible only when we are out of the present crisis" she avers. Sarita Reddy the central administrator at the Sakhicentre in Rangareddy district states that 80% of the cases referred to the Sakhi counseling centres are related to domestic violence and they continue to get the same average 6 to 8 calls a day in this regard. There has been an increase in the intensity of domestic violence in old cases and they are addressing issues of stress and anxiety by talking to these victims over telephone. Out of 2025 cases reported at this centre in the last three years 1800 are those related to domestic violence. "We had a case of a couple who got married just before the outbreak of COVID 19. The husband sent his wife away to her mother's place stating that she was unfit for married life but started pressurizing her to return after the pandemic stating that she was duty bound to look after his mother who had paralysis" Sarita states. All Sakhicentres were recently part of the women's group addressed by Union Women and Child Welfare SmritiIrani over zoom to tackle domestic violence in Corona times.
The 181 helpline number of GVK- EMRI available at all times has a staff of 15 members who ensure that distress calls from women are answered and routed to the right sources like the police, Sakhicentres, shelter homes or medical facilities to deal with emergencies." Most of the cases we receive are related to domestic violence and we receive almost 15 calls per day. Although the calls hover around the same figure there is definitely an increase in domestic violence after the pandemic. We listen to victims who call us and try to calm them and guide them. Most of the time they are comforted as they vent out their grievances to us and I keep the conversation on while directing the ambulance to reach victims in emergencies to save their lives" says Satyalakshmi a trained counselor who manages the help line. Economic factors, frustration at sharing small spaces with the family, withdrawal symptoms for addicts and many other factors add to the plight of scores of women all over the world as violence at home escalates. "This too shall pass" is a thought that will help victims get past difficult times as government agencies and women's groups extend their help in difficult times.
Paucity of police personnel who are stretched to their limits working day and night to prevent the spread of the pandemic is hampering reporting, registering and action in cases of domestic violence. All existing cases of domestic violence get worse in an atmosphere where there is no support system and families are forced to stay indoors and endure violent behavior
Taruni Resource Centre for women