Not Safe at Home Anymore

By Tanisha Saxena The coronavirus pandemic has left nearly 2.87 million people battling with its severe ramifications by testing positive, while more than 202,000 have succumbed to its deathly grip (as on April 25, 2020). Most nations have been in a strict lockdown for nearly two months. However, these are not the only numbers that are alarming. Since mid-March, the National Domestic Violence Hotline has received more than 2,000 calls from individuals citing the coronavirus lockdown as a factor for domestic abuse.  In France, reports of domestic violence have increased by 30%. Lebanon and Malaysia too, have seen the number of calls to help lines double since the start of the pandemic – the UN reports – compared with the same month last year. In China, the number of calls have tripled. The National Commission for Women (NCW), which receives complaints of assault from across India, has recorded over a two-fold rise in gender-based violence. One rape is reported every 15 minutes in India according to the National Crime Report Bureau’s (NCRB) data of 2018. Every third woman in India suffers sexual or physical violence at home. Worse, 27 percent have experienced physical violence at the mere age of 15 and onwards. While the COVID-19 cases in India are high in states such as Maharashtra, Delhi and Gujarat, cases of domestic violence are high in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, and Punjab. Confinement is fostering stress and strain created by security, health, and economic worries. It is also furthering isolation for women with violent partners, separating them from the people and resources that can help them. It has created a breeding ground of brutal behavior behind closed doors. As health systems are stretching to the limit, domestic violence shelters are also reaching peak capacity. Unemployment is at an all-time high with the major migrant workforce of India having to stay home due to the lockdown. All non-essential industries also had to shut shop to prevent further spread and in adherence to social distancing norms. Job loss, salary cuts and an uncertain future arising out of the lockdown has caused hot-headedness. This is giving rise to more fights and stressful situations at home. Several victims even fail to register First Information Reports (FIRs) as in most cases perpetrators belong to the same household. The apathy shown by police officers and the general stigma attached to domestic violence are among a few other reasons that hold them back. The usual support systems victims include getting out and away from the abuser to a haven maybe to their parents, friends, or government domestic violence shelters. The next step entails contacting the numerous NGOs working sincerely for this cause or informing the police. However, with the nationwide strict curb on stepping out, such options no longer exist. The solutions thus revolve around NGO and government body helplines being readily available via internet or on phones to ensure safety. The police and judiciary must ensure that such incidents are given high priority and care. Experts also suggest building awareness is vital. Sensitization campaigns and platforms where victims can share and discuss their issues and seek assistance would prove to be helpful. The larger and unfortunate issue however is of normalization of sexual assault due to entrenched patriarchy and regressive mindsets. Until a vaccine for these woes is found too, the world will continue to battle this vicious virus of sexual assault.


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