For many domestic violence survivors, the lockdown means being locked in with their abusersAs countries across the world go into lockdown over Covid-19, cases of domestic violence are rising.
With the lockdown in force, A. has been forced to spend all day and night with her husband, who has a history of being physically abusive. There were times in the past when the violence got so out of hand that the neighbours had to call the police.
“He used to hit me before, but he doesn’t anymore,” 26-year-old A. told the Post over the phone. A. did not wish to be identified so the Post is using her first initial.
But Deepa Joshi, who is A.’s neighbour and employer, is not convinced that A.’s husband has stopped beating her.
“Just two weeks ago, she was complaining of her husband’s abusive behaviour and there was a distinct bruise on her face,” said Joshi. “A. and her husband have gone to visit her parents in Biratnagar. But as the country is under lockdown, she is stuck there with her abusive husband. I only hope that she is safe.”
With countries across the world going into lockdown, domestic violence concerns have emerged, especially regarding people who might be locked in with their abusive spouses. According to the Guardian, “from Brazil to Germany, Italy to China, activists and survivors say they are already seeing an alarming rise in abuse.”
Nepal is just in its fifth day of the lockdown and as of yet, there has not been a marked rise in the number of domestic violence complaints. But given that at least 26 percent of Nepali women face various forms of domestic violence, according to a 2019 UN report, activists are concerned that the ‘stay at home’ protocol aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19 will inevitably make survivors like A. more vulnerable, resulting in a spike in domestic violence.
“Home symbolises a space of love and safety but if the family member happens to be abusive, the most dangerous place in the world can turn out to be our own home,” said Uma Shah, president of Saathi, an organisation that works to combat gender-based violence.
The lockdown has also deprived many people of their jobs, leaving them frustrated and bored at home. Shah fears that abusive individuals could channel their impotence at the situation into violence against their partners.
“Women are often treated as punching bags by abusers to exert their power and control. The lockdown has given people lots of free time and has resulted in joblessness and uncertainty. As a result, abusers are likely to vent their frustration by hitting their wives and children,” said Shah.
The lockdown and fears of the coronavirus could even impact women’s avenues of redress. Helplines are unmanned, many support and rescue organisations are closed and the police are preoccupied with other matters. Furthermore, many women cannot even leave the home to go stay elsewhere or file a police report as there is no transportation available.
Deputy Superintendent Krishna Bahadur Chand at the Kathmandu Metropolitan Police Station said that there have not been any complaints on domestic violence filed in the past one week and he too believes that is the result of people not being able to come to the police station to file complaints.
“Most of the time, after being abused, domestic violence survivors wait for their abusers to go to work so that they can secretly reach out to friends or organisations that can assist them. As the country is under lockdown, all these options are closing down,” said Shah.
Significant rises in domestic violence are already being recorded across the world. In an interview, Wan Fei, the founder of an organisation working against gender-based violence in Jingzhou, Hubei, said that reports of domestic violence have nearly doubled since the province went into lockdown. The hashtag #AntiDomesticViolenceDuring Epidemic was even trending on the Chinese social media platform, Sina Weibo.
Women are already reluctant to speak out about domestic violence during normal times but the lockdown has effectively served to silence them, as they cannot risk being thrown out at a time like this, say activists.
Resources are limited but there are still some organisations operating hotline services and shelters for domestic violence survivors.
According to Palita Thapa, technical advisor of the ‘Dial 1145’ helpline launched by the National Women Commission, the 24-hour toll-free helpline service is still actively assisting domestic violence survivors to file complaints and is offering counselling and therapy sessions.
“Although the women commission has stopped walk-in services, our helpline is still in service and depending on the case, we refer survivors either to the police, counsellors or shelter homes,” said Thapa.
The Asha Crisis Center is also operating a 24-hours helpline—9801193088—to provide shelter, counselling and legal services to domestic violence survivors.
“If the person informs us about domestic abuse, we directly alert the police so that we can immediately rescue her. We have also coordinated with hospitals where domestic violence survivors will undergo coronavirus tests. After the medical examination, we will let the person stay at our shelter home until things normalise,” said Sushila Shaurel, programme officer at the Asha Crisis Center.
The Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation also continues to provide mental health and psychosocial support via its toll-free helpline—16600102005—between Monday to Friday from 8 am to 7 pm.
“Anyone suffering from depression or any other mental health problems can seek help. Not only that, if the person is suffering from the psychological problems triggered by gender-based violence, we also alert the police,” said Jamuna Maharjan, clinical manager at the Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation.
But call operators at all three helplines said that there have actually been fewer calls in recent days. Thapa believes that this is not because there is less domestic violence, but because it is harder for domestic violence survivors to report abuse during a lockdown.
“The domestic violence survivors may not be able to call us as the abusers may be by their side the whole time,” said Thapa.
While Shah of Saathi also agrees with Thapa, she also urges people in potentially risky situations to use the chat and text options available on their website.
Shaurel of Asha Crisis Centre also said that although they have barely received one or two calls in the past two days, they have been getting many more messages related to domestic violence on Facebook Messenger.
“Please reach out to us either by phone or by Facebook Messenger if you are suffering from gender-based violence,”
But already, there are posts on social media about instances of domestic violence.
“Woke up with the voice of a woman frantically crying. Her abusive husband was at it again before the mother-in-law stepped. Saw the whole episode from my room,” wrote singer Samriddhi Rai on social media on Thursday. “Her cry for help still ringing in my ears is breaking my heart. #CoronavirusLockdown increasing domestic violence.”
National Women Commission helpline: 1145
Asha Crisis Center 24 helpline: 9801193088
Transcultural Psychosocial Organization helpline: 16600102005
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of September 22, 2020
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19, short for coronavirus disease, is an illness caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Common symptoms of the disease include fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
How contagious is Covid-19?
Covid-19 can spread easily from person to person, especially in enclosed spaces. The virus can travel through the air in respiratory droplets produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. As the virus can also survive on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours, any contact with such surfaces can also spread the virus. Symptoms take between two to 14 days to appear, during which time the carrier is believed to be contagious.
Where did the virus come from?
The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China in late December. The coronavirus is a large family of viruses that is responsible for everything from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). After an initial outbreak in Wuhan that spread across Hubei province, eventually infecting over 80,000 and killing more than 3,000, new infection rates in mainland China have dropped. However, the disease has since spread across the world at an alarming rate.
What is the current status of Covid-19?
The World Health Organisation has called the ongoing outbreak a “pandemic” and urged countries across the world to take precautionary measures. Covid-19 has spread to 213 countries and territories around the world and infected more than 31,405,983 people with 967,505 deaths and 22,990,260 recoveries. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 5,557,573 with 88,943 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 306,304 confirmed cases with 6,420 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 65,276 cases with 427 deaths.
How dangerous is the disease?
The mortality rate for Covid-19 is estimated to be 3.6 percent, but new studies have put the rate slightly higher at 5.7 percent. Although Covid-19 is not too dangerous to young healthy people, older individuals and those with immune-compromised systems are at greater risk of death. People with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, or those who’ve recently undergone serious medical procedures, are also at risk.
How do I keep myself safe?
The WHO advises that the most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces like your computers and phones. Avoid large crowds of people. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist for longer than a few days.
Is it time to panic?
No. The government has imposed a lockdown to limit the spread of the virus. There is no need to begin stockpiling food, cooking gas or hand sanitizers. However, it is always prudent to take sensible precautions like the ones identified above.