Although home may be considered a safe place for some, it is not the safest place for all. In fact, with COVID-19 lockdown in place, there has been a surge in cases of domestic violence. All over the world, victims of domestic violence are more vulnerable and at risk to a frighteningly new degree of violence. Here in India, the National Commission for Women (NCW) has raised an urgent alert about the increasing number of domestic violence cases since the national lockdown began. Domestic violence involves a pattern of psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional abuse. Acts of assault, threats, humiliation, and intimidation are also considered acts of violence.
What health risks are involved with victims of domestic violence?
In addition to violation of human rights, victims of domestic violence can face several physical and mental health difficulties such as risk of chronic disease, depression, sexual disorders, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and substance abuse. Disconnection from social support systems is one of the reasons for an increased risk of domestic violence during these times. As a result, there are fewer options to find safety or help for victims. Normally, the victim could flee a violent situation by staying elsewhere, but that option is not available right now.
Does the lockdown make children vulnerable to domestic violence?
The terminology ‘lockdown’ itself is quite overwhelming and gives a sense of being trapped. This compounded with stress may lead to the perpetrator projecting frustration onto the victim to a higher degree. Children too have increased vulnerability to domestic violence during this time. Increased stress levels, anxiety, job insecurity, financial worry, and other such emotions of parents can be predictor of abuse.
What should victims do when they are attacked?
What victims of domestic violence must remember is, to not blame themselves for what is happening to them. Violence is unacceptable and the perpetrator is 100 per cent responsible. Victims must not make excuses for the actions of the perpetrators, as there are none. Acceptance of such actions may lead to a vicious cycle of abuse.
* The option of reporting domestic abuse to the police is always available. However, if the victim does not intend on that course of action, they can create a safety plan for themselves, with a safe word to alert people they live with when faced with a threatening situation.
* It is advisable to keep a friend, family, neighbour or someone in proximity informed in case of escalating risk. It is also helpful to discuss this with trusted family member/s or friends and build perpetrator accountability. There are also a number of helplines for domestic violence and free online counselling websites that victims can use for relief.
— NCW (@NCWIndia) April 10, 2020
Individuals with prior abusive, aggressive tendencies, anger management problems must work on keeping their stress as low as possible. Practising self-care, limiting media exposure, taking up online impulse control programs or seeking help through counselling can put them in a better place. Parents must keep in mind that their momentary loss of control may impact their child more than they know.
It is critical that helpless individuals are protected at this time. Please keep an eye open for signs of violence around you too. Reach out for help or direct help to the spot. Be very careful when interfering with a situation as you can accidentally exacerbate it.
This is a traumatic time for all. Only when we join hands can we succeed in keeping ourselves totally safe.
(The writer is Psychologist and Mental Health. MSc City, University of London)
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