Helping Abuse Survivors During Social Distancing and COVID19
While most of India is observing a lockdown to prevent COVID-19, what about the victims of abuse locked inside the house with their perpetrator? What must they be going through?
Victims of domestic abuse are at bigger risk of isolation and abuse while stuck at home during curfew and lockdowns. Here are 8 things you can do to help.
While most of India is observing a lockdown to prevent COVID-19, I have also been cooped up inside my house with my partner all day. We managed to buy some groceries, milk beforehand ensuring that we were able to practice isolation and social distancing. We also made some treats for ourselves, created workspaces in different rooms of the house and kept going.
Amongst all this, an inevitable thought kept gnawing at me: what about the victims of abuse locked inside the house with their perpetrator? What must they be going through? For most women and children facing abuse at home, their work or school is an escape from abuse and abuser. It is a place safer than home, where they do not have to face their abuser. Or just a place where they get to be themselves.
Being able to go to an office is a welcome change for at least one in three women facing abuse. It is partial relief from an abusive partner and such lockdowns force them to be victims 24 hours a day.
Let us be allies!
We as a country pulled our socks up to prevent Corona. Similarly, as compassionate people, allies and bystanders it is imperative that we support victims of violence during these difficult times.
I am assuming anyone who is reading this is doing so on their smartphones or on their laptop. Let us begin by identifying our privilege in resources and education that is enabling us to communicate this way. We should use the resources and privilege to choose to help someone in need.
You can start by checking on your immediate circle of friends, family and colleagues or neighbours, be it children or women. Some people might have already shared their story of abuse with you. Or some you might know of and some you really have to look at the signs carefully.
We all know of victims of abuse in our circle who have been tolerating it for years, for various reasons. Practising isolation with family while being in an abusive relationship is a nightmare.
If you would like to help, keep an eye out for such people in your lives. And here are a few things you can for your neighbours, friends or even family members.
How can you help someone who is a victim of abuse?
First of all, do not blame them for not taking action before. Most victims have to deal with a lot of stigma, social and financial situations to come out of abuse. Keep aside the thought that “if they would have acted before, they would not have been in this situation.”
1. Since social distancing to contain coronavirus spread is mandatory, try and message them or give them a call once in a while. Have a general, friendly conversation. Ask them if they are okay. Reassure them that you are always there for them- conversations or otherwise.
2. If you are availing services of domestic help who lives in an abusive home, ask her to stay longer than necessary. Offer her tea and a meal – the meal and your time are a welcome change for her. Help her stay out of her house for a little longer and get some rest from the constant worry and abuse.
3. Offer your vehicle, or offer company to your neighbour who is undergoing violence to go to the grocery store for weekly groceries and vegetables. It will help them get a time out from abusive partners.
4. If you hear loud noises that seem like someone is being physically abused, practice “Bell Bajao” in such situations. When you hear a commotion that you recognise as abusive behaviour, just go and ring their bell.
5. Ask for a cup of sugar or milk. This will tell the abuser that someone is watching them. It may put a brake on the violent behaviour at least for a while. All the while, make sure that you are self-distancing. Call the police immediately if you feel the need.
6. It is a known fact that women carry the burden of most household chores. If it is a working woman, she would be managing the demands of an abusive husband, children while working from home. Try and offer the family a portion of your meal, maybe a dal or curry. Reduce her burden a little.
7. Victims of domestic violence may not have access to health care as required. If you come to know that a woman undergoing abuse is showing symptoms of Corona or any other illness, call ambulance services or the police.
8. There are children undergoing sexual abuse by their family members. In these situations, their symptoms and behavioural patterns will become extreme due to the pressure of being in a confined space with their abuser. Children, may not be ready to open up, keep an eye out for irrational behaviour, mood swings, unexplained injuries, discomfort to be alone with a particular adult or child. While this could probably be the most challenging issue to deal with, it is necessary for the safety and well being of the child. Do not hesitate to call the police immediately in such situations.
Most importantly, do not think of abusive behaviour in your vicinity as a “family issue” or “not my problem.” Remember that people do not choose to be victims, they happen to be.
*Name changed to protect the identity of a young girl.
Usha Kiran T
Usha Kiran is the Communication Manager and Program Officer at My Choices Foundation. Usha is a dreamer of change - a world free from violence and equal opportunities for all. Her professional and academic interests include gender, patriarchy, identity-based violence, and laws related to women and children.