Rise in Domestic Violence during the pandemic
Updated: Sep 14, 2020
By: Mahak Jain
Domestic violence is one of the most gruesome forms of gender-based violence. It constitutes a pattern of psychological, physical, sexual, economic and emotional abuse and control over the other human being. Acts of assault, attacks, threats, humiliation, abuses, and intimidation are also considered acts of violence in a shared household. Domestic violence is beyond intimate partner violence because any violent act and behavior amongst family members that installs fear and threat in the minds of the victims is also formally and legally categorized as a form of domestic violence. It is not wrong to argue that domestic violence against women and children might become the next pandemic in itself during these unprecedented times of the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Social distancing and isolation during multiple lockdowns has put women’s suffering from domestic violence at a higher risk, with women being obliged to reside and co-exist with their abusers in isolated settings. Children have also faced increased vulnerability to domestic violence during this hard time. The pandemic lock down has created a harsh financial crisis with increased expenses and lower incomes which has caused financial stress with pay cuts coupled with closed businesses and job cuts, leading to lower morale and diminished expectations of employment post-lockdown. This has contributed to higher levels of stress, uncertainty, and anxiety, adversely affecting mental health of all the members of the families. Disturbed mental health of abusers like aggression, depressive episodes, General Anxiety Disorder, etc. has become a justifiable defence for domestic violence.
Another prominent cause for an upsurge in cases of domestic violence all around the world has been disassociation from social groups and lack of social activities. Absence of venting mechanisms/processes has added to the build-up of frustration. This has pushed the male members of the family to take their frustration out on their wives and children through quarrels, humiliations and assaults. In India, between March 25 and May 31, almost 1,477 domestic violence complaints were received by the National Commission for Women’s Complaint and Investigation Cellwhich was a substantial rise from the 396 cases reported between February and March.
The absence of any household help in congruence with the patriarchal mindset of those participating in household chores has added salt to the misery of women, because apart from the domestic abuse but also perform all household duties with no domestic help and no privacy from their perpetrators.These challenges are compounded with minimum financial resources for women and restricted access to groceries and other essential utilities. Children have also been forced to live in hostile and unsympathetic environments contributing further to their academic stress. As a result, women and children are facing severe physical and mental health difficulties like depression, anxiety attacks, chronic diseases and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Women who are victims of intimate partner violence are also encountering various sexual disorders and unwanted pregnancies.
In the author’s view, there is another complication in the Indian family system, where the women living in joint families are subjected to more harassment and violence as a result of living with their in-laws under the same roof to avoid costs and extra expenses. Thus, the lockdown has escalated the domestic violence situations for existing victims and simultaneously also produced more victims.
This situation has been made worse because of limited or no access to police, distress women help centers and even courts. Due to the pandemic lockdown, on the one hand, the police stations were either closed for the general public or police personnel were busy with pandemic related duties. On the other hand, courts were handling only the urgent cases. Due to these logistical constraints the almost non existential redressal mechanisms could not come to the rescue of these victims. Other contributing factors to amplify such ‘intimate terrorism’ includes the possibility of the husbands to exercise constant surveillance over their wives through monitoring phones, inability of women to travel to counselling centers for seeking remedies, and recourse to alcohol. Additionally, increased home drinking or forced abstinence from alcohol due to the closure of local wine shops has also aggravated the complicated relationship between alcohol and domestic violence. It is ironic that the quote “Stay Home, Stay Safe” is not of much significance to women who are subjected to this unwanted domestic brutality and cruelty also during the Coronavirus pandemic lockdown.
Due to the rising number of phone calls being received from victims, Governmental organizations, women cells, and National Commission for Women realised the urgency of the matter and took various steps. Measures were adopted to curb the situation like publicizing through media participation as well as sensitization on such matters. Various hotline and helpline phone numbers of social workers were started, and categorical support services for the survivors were publicized through WhatsApp, newspaper, radio, television and pamphlets in public spaces like super markets, grocery stores, ration shops, and public toilets.
Nonetheless, these measures have not proven to be very effective in managing and handling domestic violence cases. More active and engaging measures need to be opted to give relief to the domestic violence victims like better working of the helpline services. A financial support package to NGOs providing support in terms of counselling, access to shelter homes, medical treatments and other support services to the victims of domestic violence could also be considered. Another solution to a sudden spurt in the domestic violence cases during such unprecedented times can be the participation of crucial stakeholders like lawyers, trained mediators, psychiatrists, and psychologists in policy formulation for the safety and mental health of victims of domestic violence.
After the pandemic ends, the mental and emotional distress and trauma that women have faced in their households might also expose them to residual stress, depression, PTSD and anxiety. Precautionary steps can be undertaken by NGOs and professional institutes by mapping out certain interactive groups as well as individual workshops for the benefit of women to come out of such trauma.
Mahak Jain is a 4th Year student at JGLS.
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