What if Home is Not Safe?

In most countries, we are encouraged to stay indoors during this pandemic. For many of us, it means organising our daily routines and work lives accordingly. Home is a place of safety and sanctuary in a time of chaos and uncertainty. But for hundreds of millions of people (maybe for billions), mainly children and women, home is a place of violence and fear. 

Continuous abuse, -which increases when the person abused can not go out, and lack safe human connections- is much more dangerous, it can lead to further trauma, physical injuries and even death. Now imagine being locked in the same house with your abuser, who is ready to hit you at any given moment. Suddenly, all those jokes about self-isolating leading to divorce don’t look quite so funny.

I know how it feels because I lived that fear

I experienced domestic abuse more than once in my life. It shatters your perception about yourself and life, even if you have confidence and resources. This is one of the reasons I am writing this post; domestic abuse is a hidden scar, bleeding in many houses you would find it hard to believe. It can be your neighbour, your friend, even a family member who needs your help, but too scared or ashamed to reach out. If the abused person is a child, she/he may not know what to do. This is the time to open your eyes, ears and hearts, reach out and serve to your communities. Because for someone, you can be the only light.

For Children in Need

For many children, school is a place of learning and socialising. For others, however, it is a safe place — a refuge from unsafe home environments where they face the threat of child abuse.

In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that up to 1 billion minors between the ages of 2 and 17 years of age have endured violence either physical, emotional, or sexual. For more details check WHO statistics here

Many support organizations have voiced fears over increases in child abuse while schools remain closed. The situation for some children could become life-threatening. 

When children are in closed environments with their abusers where they can not avoid each other, it adds to potential conflict and increases aggressiveness. This is especially dangerous if the parents are suffering from addiction.

What Can Be Done?

  • Address children and include them when communicating information, especially on digital channels. At the moment, children are mainly informed via adults, but those most vulnerable might not be receiving the correct information.
  • Do not normalize language used against children that is degrading, sexist or violent on all mediums including social media and WhatsApp chats, even if they are meant to be jokes. Children are complete humans that deserve respect and more care than adults.
  • Children need the room to move and let off steam. The states need to reintroduce some kinds of recreational possibilities for families in the fresh air.
  • Offer parental support; helplines, stress management techniques, family healing activities.
  • Check on your contacts whom you suspect are abusive parents with children, especially if they suffer from addictions. 
  • If you hear loud shouts or cries in neighbouring apartments, call the police.

If we want to create a systemic impact, today is the best time. Children who are abused are much more likely to become adults who abuse (between 30% and 40% of people who are abused as children go on to become abusers themselves) – so it is vital to concentrate efforts on families that could be identified as being at greater risk of abuse.

For Women in Need

WHO also estimated that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner (not including sexual harassment) at some point in their lives. However, some national studies show that up to 70 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. For more details click here.

Reports from China revealed that incidents of domestic abuse increased following the outbreak of the virus. In some places, the number of domestic abuse cases was three times as high as usual after weeks of strict isolation measures. Reports of domestic abuse have spiked by about 30% in France since the country went into lockdown in mid-March.

A combination of economic uncertainty, anxiety caused by quarantine, a lack of escape routes for women and a weakening of support services created a perfect storm. When a violent partner is less likely to leave the apartment, it makes it almost impossible for victims to reach out and call advice centres. Personal visits from support networks and social services are also being reduced in fear of spreading the COVID-19 virus.

“According to our statistics, 90% of the causes of violence are related to the COVID-19 epidemic.” 

– Wan Fei, founder of an anti-domestic violence nonprofit

What Can Be Done?

  • Curate/create online workshops to help people know what to do if they witness or are concerned about domestic abuse. Social Media and WhatsApp groups are a powerful tool to share online resources, including domestic abuse helplines and online resources.
  • Use social media to raise awareness that this is an issue. In China, the hashtag #AntiDomesticViolenceDuringEpidemic #疫期反家暴# has taken off. Talking about the problem and recognising that it is a risk of the virus can – at least – help women realise they are not alone.
  • Help change sexist norms and values (for example, altering norms that condone the sexual abuse of girls and women or aggressive behaviour among boys and men.)
  • Demand government action to ensure victims and survivors of abuse get the protections they need to escape, even during periods of self-isolation. This means making sure the police, housing services and charities all have the resources and legal protections they need to take action for women – and to recognise that women’s physical safety is as much of a priority as containing the virus. 

Some examples from around the world:

The French government has launched several new initiatives to help women escape including paying for accommodation in hotels to help women escape abusive partners, and 20 support centers at shopping centers around the country where women could seek help.

In Spain’s Canary Islands and in France, officials set up an “alert system” in pharmacies nationwide, where victims of domestic abuse could discreetly ask the pharmacist to call police by asking for a “mask 19.”  

Spain’s government advising women that they were exempt from strict lockdown restrictions if they needed to leave the home to flee or report abuse. 

In Trento, Italy, a prosecutor ruled that abusers, rather than their victims, would have to leave their homes if they committed an assault.

  • Check on your contacts whom you suspect are abused at home, making sure you are not risking your safety.
  • If you are the one being abused, learn what you can do to create a safety plan, practice self-care and reach out for help. 

How can we provide the best possible services to keep the women and children as safe as possible – from coronavirus and abusive men?

As we all start to prepare for the impact the virus will have on our families and communities, we must make sure that children and women experiencing domestic abuse are not abandoned and ignored. We already have a crisis when it comes to children’s rights and women’s rights all around the world. We need to see a strong response that leaves no child nor woman isolated in a dangerous home.

Share your questions, stories, links, and suggestions about this topic in the comments below. 

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