By Helia Shahmohammadi
Olksandra, a Ukrainian woman isolated in her home in Kyiv with her ex-husband and their two children, says the quiet war her husband was waging against her had been escalated during lockdown and she was afraid to seek help because he would eavesdrop on her messages and phone calls. In the UK, only three weeks after lockdown was imposed, 16 domestic abuse murder cases were reported in England and Wales and the numbers kept on rising. Although the isolation helps to prevent the spreading of Coronavirus, it puts women, children and LGBTI youth in a confined environment with their abusers restricting movement and resources; making the likelihood of domestic violence, verbal abuse and controlling behavior increase dramatically.
Rabab Korabi, a women’s counselor in West Bank indicates that many women who have messaged her during the Coronavirus lockdown do not know what domestic abuse is and said that spreading awareness is a very important concept in changing women’s lives. According to women’s aid UK, domestic abuse is “an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behavior, including sexual violence, in the majority of cases by a partner or ex-partner, but also by a family member or carer. In the vast majority of cases it is experienced by women and is perpetrated by men”. This pattern includes controlling and restricting behavior and also psychological and/or emotional abuse such as using offensive words and restriction of resources such as internet, phone calls and even food. Since being in quarantine already restricts movement and increases the time victims spend with their abusers, the violent behavior increases in frequency and intensity.
Although it is hard to document these gender-based abuse cases since less than 40 percent of the victims report abuse to any organization and less than 10 percent go to the police, according to the UN, cases of domestic abuse have risen by approximately 20 percent during the pandemic all around the world. In addition to women, other vulnerable members of society such as many LGBTI+ youth are in the risk of going through abuse by being isolated with their unsupportive family members in a hostile environment.
According to 2018 data compiled by Women for Women against Violence, an NGO, one in five Hungarian women is in an abusive relationship. Moreover, NANE Association’s research from 2019 suggests that more than 233,000 women are suffering from domestic abuse in Hungary and taking UN’s data into account, things were much worse during the lockdown in 2020. This year on May 5th, Hungary’s ruling party, Fidesz, rejected the Istanbul convention. The Council of Europe Convention on Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention is inclusive in recognizing everyone’s right to live free from domestic abuse regardless of their gender, sexual orientation and immigrant status. Unfortunately, the Fidesz party finds this convention against traditional family values; stating that it encourages homosexuality and also goes against Hungary’s policies in regulating immigration. This rejection puts many women and LGBTI+ youth in an even greater danger than before.
Although the problem is big and sometimes is left unsolved, volunteers and organizations are working day and night to find solutions. Call centers are one of the most popular solutions. In Thar, India volunteers such as Kavita Khaan not only answer calls, but also deliver food and check in regularly with women in abusive homes. In addition, social media plays an important role for organizations and volunteers to help victims when person to person interaction is almost impossible. In Houston, Texas a group of students used social media to deliver food to women trapped in their homes with messages hidden in the food saying how to find help. This viral video https://youtu.be/nUJV-9wvdB8 is made by the Canadian Women’s Foundation for the women in lockdown who are being abused and controlled to seek help without leaving any cyber trace.
All in all, people have been trapped with their abusers during this pandemic all around the world; causing a second global crisis and although volunteers and nonprofit foundations are helping with this issue, there is still room for improvements, especially from the governments such as Hungary’s to provide a safe, healthy space for anyone who is being a victim of violence in this global pandemic. It is important to remember that human life is precious and should be protected regardless of politics and prejudices.