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Prof. Shula Ramon,
University of Hertfordshire, United Kingdom

Domestic Violence and Abuse in the Covid 19 Pandemic

Internationally it is reported that calls for help from victims of domestic violence and abuse (DVA) have increased dramatically during the Covid-19 pandemic, ranging from Asia to Europe, Africa to Latin America, and North America (Feder et al, 2020) . According to the United Nations there were 243 million victims/survivors of DVA prior to the pandemic. un.org

Yet a reduction in the number of self- referrals to health services has been observed, including to emergency departments (Muldoon et al, 2021).

The same applies to gender- based violence (GbV), often expressed in sexual assaults.

The majority of victims are women and girls, a ratio particular expressed in the number of killings (Roberts, 2021), though men too are victims, mainly of male perpetrators.

The increase of calls for help and in estimated number of victims/survivors during a pandemic has not come as a surprise to anyone, as it has been observed in previous pandemics such as the Ebola and Zika (John et al, 2020). It also increases during armed political conflicts (see UN reference, above).

Domestic violence and abuse, as well as Gender based Violence, are experienced as traumatic events, because the victims are betrayed either by people with whom they have intimate relationships, or by people who are their fellow citizens. The trauma leads often to experiencing mental ill health, in the forms of anxiety, depression, and suicide (SaferLives (2019) Safe and Well: Mental Health and Domestic Violence. Spotlight 7, [email protected])

In addition, victims/survivors are afraid to use health services because of the pandemic and the fear of being infected. Furthermore, most such services have curtailed their availability to people who do not suffer from the effects of the Covid 19, partly as more input was given to those suffering from the infection, and partly as a measure of defending health care workers. The restrictions in availability of services is not limited to health, and social care workers too are expected to offer at best only a limited, often online/phone contact, instead of the usual face-to-face service.

These limitations are particularly hitting women and girls experiencing either DVA or GbV, partly because of the intimate nature of the abuse, and partly because both types of violence carry with them a high level of shame and guilt for the victim, rather than for the perpetrator.

The media representation of DVA and GvB provides many examples of describing women victims of DVA as undeserving our support, while describing the perpetrators as “good family men” in a variety of different types of media, ranging from newspapers, films, social media, television (Ramon, Penhale and Lloyd, 2021) (Smoke & Mirrors by Michele Lloyd & Shula Ramon - YouTube).

It is indeed odd that a victim of these types of violence would be socialised to feel shame and guilt, instead of the perpetrator, yet the existing evidence highlights that in the UK women would complain to the police of DVA only after 35 incidents of such behaviour, and even then many of them would be likely to withdraw their complaints (Stramer , 2011).

The question “Why does she not leave” is being asked frequently of women who have been victims of DVA, as a number of women murdered by their intimate partner have not left the shared home after violence incidents (see Ted Lecture by Leslie Moran Steiner , 2012, and Morgan Steiner, 2009).

Intimate relationships are perceived in all cultures as women’s domain, and hence failure to have good intimate relationships leads to the conclusion that the woman is guilty, rather than the perpetrator.

Indeed, in many countries women stay with their perpetrators due to extended family pressure, cultural expectations, or for the sake of the children . Yet we know that children observing violence between their parents are likely to have a higher proportion of behavioural problems, are under-achievers educationally and the boys among them are likely to engage in aggressive behaviour. Going to a refuge may be a safer option, but is a difficult choice to be made given that the perpetrator stays at home while the woman, often with children, leaves the parental home.

Children are also all too often victims of domestic violence perpetrated by either one of their parents or siblings (Marshal, Ey and Goddard, 2018). Social workers know well from their own practice experience the cost of such abuse to the child, the other children, and to the non-violent parent.

Following the logic of social justice, some countries have enabled through legislation to make it relatively easy to make the perpetrators leave the shared home instead of the victim having to leave their home (e.g. Austria, Germany), but many countries have not done so, including highly developed countries such as the UK.

Only rarely we come across men who have the courage and conviction to propose that DVA and GbV are men’s issues, rather than women’ . Jackson Katz – from the US - is one such man (Katz, 2006). He speaks publicly of the importance of changing the social attribution of DVA from the victim to the perpetrator. He calls for men who are not perpetrators, i.e. the majority of men, to publicly denounce violent behaviour towards women and men, and to support the victims/survivors. Dr. Katz does so not only in his publications and Ted lectures, but also in training military personnel, where the level of such violence is often higher than in the rest of the population. bystandermoment.org

Despite the constraints the pandemic has led to, there are positive examples of current support projects which are effective both as a solidarity and moral boast acts, as well as in providing necessary and useful medical, psychological and social support.

Dr. Kemi Da Silva Ibru is a family doctor and gynaecologist in Nigeria. She has created an NGO titled WARIF (women against risk international foundation) which provides emergency medical support and legal advice. As the calls to her organisation have increased by 64% during the pandemic, she trained 3000 birth attenders to offer first aid to victims of domestic violence and gender- based violence, beginning by going to homes of women in the areas where they work. They have reached by 2021 35,000 women. WARIF has also established an online training for law enforcers and religious leaders on DVA ([email protected]).

Her Ted Lecture, delivered in December 2020, is titled The Shadow Pandemic of Domestic Violence, and is worthwhile looking at. ted.com

The titled “the shadow pandemic” is also the name of the United Nations initiative in this field.

Previous projects focused on empowering women victims/survivors of DVA have demonstrated not only the usefulness of empowerment as a tool of healing and of taking control over one’s life Lloyd et al, 2017), but also the fact that many of them move from being victims to becoming leaders, including Leslie Morgan Steiner.

Amnesty International’s blog of March 2021 (amensty.org) provides a number of named examples of such women leaders from Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, who are able to provide important contributions towards the wellbeing of women in their countries who have experienced domestic violence during the covid-19 pandemic.

These examples highlight the centrality of women’s organisations in supporting women victims/survivors of DVA and GbV (Anyudoho et al, 2020).

Perpetrators in Western societies come often from a background of being abused as children, and do respond positively to interventions which utilise their motivation of caring for their children (Stanely, 2012). Hence there is a place for specific interventions with them. In countries in which gendered based violence is frequent, men controlling women in a variety of ways is an acceptable part of the culture, even when the law prohibits violence towards women.

In the restrictive life within the pandemic, or of armed political conflict, both women and men, as well as children, lead a lonely, risky and deprived life. This is not in my view a good enough reason for abusing another person, be it physically, emotionally or financially, but it explains the increase of such behaviour during any pandemic.

Instead, kindness and compassion are called for during this pandemic by all of us towards each other.

References

Anyudoho, M. et al (2020) The Role of Women’s Movements in the Implementation of GbV law. Politics and Gender, 1-27.
Feder, G. et al (2021) Domestic Violence during the Pandemic. BMJ 2021:372:n753. bmj.com
John, N. et al (2020) Lessons Never Learned: Crisis and Gender based Violence. Development World Biothics, special issue. Doi: 10.1111.dews,1296.
Katz, J. (2006) The Macho Paradox: Why some men hurt women and how all men can help. New York, NY: Source Books.
Lloyd, M. et al (2017) Women’s Experience of Domestic Violence and Mental Health: Findings from a European Empowerment Project. Psychology of Violence, 7, 3, 478-487.
Marshall, V. Ey, L.., Goddard, C. (2018) Intimate Partner Violence as a Form of Child Abuse. In: Bryce, Y et al (ed) Child Abuse and neglect: Forensic Issues in evidence, impact and management. London: Elsevier, 23-40.
Morgan Steiner, L, (2009) Crazy Love: A Memoir. New York. NY: St. Martin Press.
Ramon, S. Lloyd, M., Penhale, B. (ed) (2021) Gendered Domestic Violence and abuse in Popular Culture. Emerald Publishing.
Roberts, Y. (2021) 278 Dead Hidden Scandal of Older Women Killed by Men. The Observer, March 7, 37-40.
Stanley, N.et al (2012) Men’s talk: Men’s understanding of violence against women and motivation for change. VAW, 18, 1, 1300-1318.
Usher, K. et al (2020) Family Violence and Covid-19: Increased Vulnerability and Reduced Options for Support. Editorial. International Journal od Mental Health Nursing. Doi: 10.1111.inm.1273.