Introduction to Domestic Violence during crisis
- It is well-documented that during a war, a natural disaster or a pandemic, women’s bodies bear the worse brunt of the crisis.
- Now, at the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations recognises domestic violence against women as a “shadow pandemic”.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a huge spike in domestic violence against women in China, Australia, France, the U.K., Spain, and Bangladesh, among others.
- In India, too, the National Commission for Women has reported a large increase in distress calls from victims of domestic violence since the pandemic broke out.
- Domestic violence against women is already widespread and under-reported in India.
Home, not safe for many
- The national strategy against COVID -19 emphasises that home is the safest place to be.
- Ironically, for domestic violence victims, home is the most unsafe place to be quarantined as they are forced to live with their abusers.
- Although asking people to stay at home is an effective and welcome anti-COVID-19 strategy, home is not the safe haven it should be for many women because abusers have increased access to their victims and survivors have decreased or no access to resources.
How is the current crisis making it worse?
- Women are most often the caregivers for those quarantined at home and already infected with the virus, which makes them more vulnerable to contracting the disease.
- The victims are not only unable to speak out because they are quarantined at home with the perpetrators, but also because the lockdown prevents them from seeking help outside.
- Tragically, traditional forms of support are now not available to domestic violence victims. They don’t go to their parental homes for fear of infecting elderly parents.
- Shelter homes are crowded and so they are vulnerable to greater infection there.
- The police force is already overburdened with ensuring that people comply with the lockdown.
- Hospitals do not have the space or time to look at domestic violence cases.
What is Domestic Violence?
- Domestic violence can be verbal, financial, psychological and sexual. It includes the abuser withholding financial or medical assistance.
- Domestic violence is rooted in the inequities of power and control.
- The abusers feel an enormous loss of power and control over their own lives due to the pandemic. They vent their frustration on the women in the house.
- Mental health issues arise out of isolation as well as reactive depression, but instead of recognising these issues and seeking help, people become violent.
Protecting victims – Way Forward
- Nevertheless, it is vital for policymakers to address the needs of these women who are playing an indispensable role on the front line in the war against COVID-19 — as health workers, sanitation staff, caregivers, scientists, and as long-suffering housewives.
- Priority measures to help domestic violence victims, without detracting from the overall anti-COVID-19 strategy of lockdown, should be initiated by the government, and steps to protect victims of domestic violence be made a part of overall anti-COVID-19 action plans.
- UN Women has said that “helplines, psychosocial support and online counselling should be boosted, using technology-based solutions such as SMS, online tools and networks to expand social support, and to reach women with no access to phones or Internet.”
- The electronic media can raise awareness in regional language infomercials, since domestic violence is a crime under the Indian Penal Code.
- SOS messaging to police already exists in several cities, but this should be enhanced with geolocation facilities.