As Covid-19 and the lockdown that followed confined people to their homes, complaints of domestic violence and cyber crime against women went up while those of harassment, sexual assault, and rape dipped, with the effect more pronounced in the country’s red zones, districts with the strictest lockdown measures, according to a new study by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“In their study published as a US National Bureau of Economic Research paper on June 21, Saravana Ravindran and Manisha Shah, professors of Public Policy at UCLA, compiled complaints registered with India’s National Commission for Women and mapped them on to districts in the red, orange and green zones — districts demarcated by the administration based on the Covid caseload — and cross-checked the findings with Google Mobility and Search trends.
Overall, there were 392 complaints of domestic violence registered with the NCW’s Complaint and Investigation Cell in May this year compared to 266 in May 2019. There were 73 cyber crime complaints involving women in May 2020, compared to 49 in May 2019. Rape and sexual assault complaints decreased 66% — from 163 in May last year to 54 this May. In 2019, they had decreased 17% from 198 in May 2018.
Examining this data, the researchers found that the average number of monthly domestic violence complaints per red zone district was below 1.5 in March 2020, which went up to almost 2 in May 2020. For green zone districts, this number stayed at around 0.3 during the lockdown period – or around three such cases for every 10 districts.
The red zones also saw an increase in cybercrime complaints made by women when compared to green zones. While these complaints averaged below .1 per red zone district in February, it increased to .35 in May, while in green zones, the number increased from .03 to .06 during this period.
On the other hand, relative to green zones, complaints of rape, sexual assault and harassment decreased in red zones in the April-May period.
The average number of rape and sexual assault complaints in each of the red zone districts moved from .5 in March to less than .1 in April to above .2 in May. In green zones, it moved from .1 to almost 0 to less than .05.
This could be “likely due to decreased mobility in public spaces, public transport, and workplaces,” the study read. “These findings are consistent with research highlighting the magnitude of street harassment women in India face.”
“Domestic abuse” and “domestic violence helpline” were Google search terms that began to significantly increase mid-March and peaked on April 19 and on May 10 in India, the UCLA research found.
The study says, “This is an important finding because if we were to simply estimate the impact of lockdowns on violence against women, we might find null results due to the increase in domestic violence and cybercrimes and the decrease in rape and sexual harassment, masking important heterogeneities. Our results suggest that women face a portfolio of danger, and some policies can improve certain types of violence outcomes while exacerbating others.”