As the threat posed by Covid-19 increases, people are being encouraged to isolate themselves to avoid contracting the virus. For many families and couples, the most challenging issues they face involve staying healthy and keeping their children occupied. But for survivors of domestic violence, the danger increases with isolation and social distancing.
By virtue of doing research on domestic violence and different forms of abuse, as a part of Shakti project, which is developed with the help of the University of Chicago and the Tata Centre for Development at the University of Chicago, we have gained considerable knowledge on barriers faced by survivors of such violence in accessing legal and public health resources and how lack of awareness leads them to believe in inaccurate or biased information.
In the time of Covid-19, when mobility is restricted, women, who are forced to stay in abusive relationships, are at greater risk of being a victim of violence, as is being reported from different countries.
Taking a leaf from what we have learnt during our interaction with health professionals, counsellors, clinical psychiatrists, lawyers, and gender justice advocates, we are sharing some useful tips on how the potentially vulnerable groups can help themselves in case of distress.
Different forms of abuse
Abuse is about power and control, and an abuser can exert their power during this health emergency in several ways, including:
● Not providing shelter or resources,
● Physically abusing family members,
● Forced exposure to the disease,
● Not allowing family members to wash their hands, or
● Sharing misinformation.
If you have children and are concerned about their safety or your own, start creating a safety plan immediately. If there is violence, go to a part of the house where there are no weapons. Let your children know that they should never try to help you because that can escalate violence. Identify a code word that you can use to communicate to the children that they should escape or contact the police. Help them understand when and how to contact emergency services. Pack a bag with a set of clothes for you and the children, their birth certificates, medication, medical records and prescription, cash and an ATM card, an extra phone, and the phone numbers and addresses of trusted family and friends.
If you or your child are immunocompromised, inform your doctor about the abuse and discuss options and strategies for the situation. You may want to print an identity card with information about the condition and medication. Carry the identity card with you at all times to make sure healthcare workers see it during an emergency.
Let a trusted friend know about the situation. Try to pick a friend who doesn’t have elderly family or children in the house, in order to reduce exposure to the virus.
If you are physically abused, call your doctor and ask them where you should go to get help, as your local emergency room may be overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases. The reduction in public transport and cab services during this period can make it hard to leave. Police and ambulance services are essential and will be available during this time.
Older adults are at high risk of complications due to COVID-19. Reduce their exposure to the virus by checking in with them over the phone. Ask them if their medical needs are being met, and offer to help them with groceries or medication.
Do you know someone who is a survivor of violence?
As a concerned friend or family member, if you have the slightest suspicion that an adult or child is facing violence at home, check in on them by texting or calling them. Furthermore, if they are pregnant or immunocompromised they may also be at high risk of developing complications from the virus. Look for signs of abuse. During times of social distancing, a video call may be the best way to pick up on any nonverbal cues. You could also use a predetermined code word to help them communicate when they are in danger. If they let you know that they are in danger, do NOT go over. Call the police.
Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children. Talking things over as a family can help identify specific fears and clarify the facts. It also helps for families to discuss a plan in case someone gets sick.
The economic impact of a lockdown will be severe on your domestic help, and other daily wage labourers. This loss of income can be a potential trigger for increased domestic violence. Give your domestic help paid leave during a lockdown, and paid sick leave if they fall ill. Be generous to people whose income is being affected during this time. Tip them, offer them more money for their services, or advances, if necessary.
Here are some phone numbers that can help you:
Help Age India: 1800-180-1253
Dignity Foundation: 080 2654 2229
If you suspect that a child might be facing or witnessing abuse at home, call the police at 100 or Childline at 1098.
•NIMHANS Center for Well-Being - 9480829670
•Bembala - 99806 60548
•Parivarthan – 7676602602
•NIMHANS Perinatal Helpline - 8105711277
•iCALL – 9372048501/9920241248
•SNEHA - 98330 52684 / 91675 35765
•JAGORI - (011) 26692700
•Sakshi Violence Intervention Center: (0124) 2562336/5018873