Domestic abuse during COVID-19 lockdown: How to get the help you need
The National Commission for Women revealed that within the first week of the Indian lockdown, they received 257 calls about offences against women.
The COVID-19 pandemic has spread to most of the countries and territories of the world by now and has lead to some of the strictest lockdowns in affected nations. With our entire focus on this pandemic and the unprecedented global public health emergency it has caused, there are some very important issues that are slipping through the cracks. Domestic abuse and violence might just become one of these issues if immediate attention isn’t paid to it.
Lockdowns all over the world have now confined some survivors of domestic abuse and perpetrators of said abuse in the same household. The National Commission for Women (NCW) revealed that within the first week of the Indian lockdown (which was put into motion from 25th March and will continue until 3rd May) they received 257 calls about offences against women, 69 of which were pertaining to domestic abuse.
Abuse comes in many shapes
This rise in domestic abuse is alarming because abuse and violence can have a huge impact on the physical health of a survivor. But that’s not all, because abuse comes in many forms.
“Where there is emotional and verbal abuse, we sometimes fail to understand the gravity of this type of abuse,” Monica, a co-coordinator and counsellor for Shakti Shalini’s Crisis Intervention and Counselling Centre, revealed. “But these are forms of abuse which can later transform into mental health issues as well.”
Staying at home, whether you’re a working woman or not, is also playing a role in domestic abuse cases right now. “The expectation, of course, from women, is that if you’re home - whether you're working from home or not - you have to contribute towards the household chores,” says Sangeeta Rege, coordinator at Mumbai’s Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes (CEHAT).
Who’s at risk right now?
But women, especially married women, aren’t the only ones at risk of facing domestic abuse right now. “Domestic abuse, according to the law, means the abuse of a woman by her partner in a domestic setting. But, we are not looking at the kind of abuse that the elderly are being subjected to,” Monica said and went on to reveal that their organisation has received calls from parents who share homes with their adult children about facing verbal and emotional abuse. She also mentioned how some men are also calling in due to domestic abuse which is mostly verbal and emotional in nature.
People from the LGBTQ community are also at a very high risk of facing domestic abuse, a peer counsellor associated with Delhi’s Nazariya, who chose to speak anonymously, revealed. “Most of the cases we’re dealing with emerge from the natal families because queer people are at home with their parents where they are policed constantly, beaten, or verbally tortured,” he explained, while also mentioning that most of the calls they are currently receiving are from transgender, lesbian and bisexual people.
Managing risk and providing aid in COVID-19 times
All the counsellors and coordinators we spoke to proved the fact that although unable to physically reach all domestic abuse survivors, they are doing everything they can to constantly stay in touch with survivors and provide them all the aid possible, including helping them contact the police.
CEHAT’s hospital-based joint initiative with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), Dilaasa, is fully functional and has been deemed an essential service, Rege revealed. She also mentioned that CEHAT resources are now available to everyone at a national level as well. NGOs like Shakti Shalini, Nazariya, Nari Samta Munch, Aali, Jagori and others also have counsellors and therapists survivors can talk to. The NCW also released a WhatsApp number recently for women facing domestic abuse.
Some suggestions counsellors are giving survivors right now is to focus on maintaining physical distance with the perpetrators, minimising confrontations, avoiding triggers and diffusing situations which might lead to an escalation in abuse or violence.
Policing is still vital
However, in cases where physical violence poses an immense threat, all the organisations insisted that calling the police and reporting to them is of the utmost importance. “In very violent cases, approaching the police is the only option for survivors. Only the police can come and help physically right now because not all NGOs will be able to do that,” Monica explained. “The police might not be able to intervene immediately, because they’re also stretched right now. But wherever they have intervened recently, we have seen an improvement in the situation.”
As for reporting, most NGOs are helping survivors file a complaint via email or any other means they have access to. Despite how busy you think the police are right now, delaying reporting to them about domestic abuse is not going to help - but contacting them just might, as Monica explains. “It might caution the perpetrator to the idea that the world might be under lockdown but the police are still there, and they may have to face serious consequences for their abusive behaviour,” she says.
“In some cases, we too have talked directly to the perpetrators to make them understand that the survivor is not alone and there will be consequences for such behaviour,” she went on. “If you show people that crossing a certain limit will mean facing severe consequences, it might work. Obviously, many will cross the limit, but there may be some who won’t.”
Domestic abuse resources and helplines
The following are some helpline numbers you can call if you are facing domestic abuse or violence yourself, or know somebody who is in need of help:
National Commission for Women (NCW): 7217735372
Shakti Shalini, Delhi: 011-24373737
Nazariya, Delhi: 9818151707
Jagori, Delhi: 26692700
Nari Samta Munch, Pune: 9987720696
Swayam, Kolkata: 9830747030; 9830204393
Aali, Lucknow: 9415343437
Aali, Jharkhand: 9693853019
Aakansha Seva Sadan, Muzaffarpur: 9905443544
CEHAT, Mumbai: 9029073154
For more information, read our article on Domestic violence on the rise during lockdown.
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