Most of the world is experiencing lockdowns of various kinds. The restrictions were put in place by governments, here and abroad, to protect the health, and even the lives, of their people. But there have been unintended consequences as many women, and some men, have found themselves forced into quarantine with abusive partners.
Extended quarantine, such as we have been having for the last couple of months, can be very hard on the best relationships. People cooped up with very little to do, and their entire everyday routines put on hold, can get a little irritable and more sensitive to others, in a negative way.
Imagine, then, what it must be like for victims of domestic abuse to have to spend day after day in the company of their abuser. With no respite, and with rising tensions, abusers have no limit to their opportunities for abuse in all its forms: physical, verbal, and psychological.
Just like the statistics on confirmed cases and death from the pandemic, it is difficult to keep the same level of grief and empathy when faced with the data on domestic abuse in this country, province, and municipality. Statistics can become meaningless in such circumstances, and lose their ability to shock or outrage us. Even in the Times Before, when we led “normal” lives, the incidence of domestic abuse had become, if not commonplace, then easily accepted in our society. This was unfortunate.
Now, with the stats showing tens of thousands of deaths around the world from covid-19, the enduring fact of domestic abuse has been over shadowed by more immediately relevant facts which affect us all.
Nevertheless, domestic abuse has not only continued since the pandemic began, it has increased enormously. For example, the Vancouver’s Battered Women’s Support Services in British Columbia recently reported that calls to their emergency helpline have increased 300% in just three weeks. And they already were getting 18,000 calls a year. That’s about 50 every single day of the year. Around 40% of calls in that three-week period were first-time callers, some of them children who were witnessing the abuse at home under lockdown.
It is not just Vancouver, or Canada, that has seen sharp rises. In France, reports of domestic abuse have increased by 36%, according to police, so the actual figure must be much higher, as most incidents of abuse are never reported. In China, calls to help lines have tripled compared to last year, and in the U.K., they’ve increased by 25%.
There is much talk about how the world will change after the pandemic has ceased to affect us all so much. We have seen how the environment has improved with fewer cars on the road, etc. We know that things can change, now that we’ve been forced to change. We may have more respect in future for all of those who have remained at work in order to deal with our health, provide our groceries, or kept the wheels of society turning in so many ways. Perhaps it will change how we pay people in those occupations, or in the conditions in which they have to work.
Elsewhere in this issue is an article reporting on the increasing difficulty non-profits are facing because of covid19.
But domestic abuse will have changed the lives of many also. The least we can do for victims is to shine a light on the situation, get behind the statistics, and develop new attitudes and approaches to the violence experienced by women, children, and some men too, every day of their lives. We must speak up and be clear: abuse in all its forms, physical, verbal, psychological and emotional is unacceptable, as are those who abuse. Let’s be open: abusers are not “good people at heart”, they are bullies and cowards, and many need psychological help. Victims of abuse need to be told by society that they are not to blame for their partner’s behaviour. Staying for the sake of the children is not the answer: children are traumatised by what they see and hear, or experience themselves, at the hands of abusive parents.
Men and women who abuse others in any way need to be taken to task, and perhaps to jail, and have it made perfectly clear that there is no excuse for their actions. Shelters for victims across the country are trying to cope with overwhelming need. They are frontline workers every day, every year. What is required is a policy of zero tolerance for the bullies until we see a fundamental change in attitudes throughout society.
I look to the day when we can tell abuse victims what we tell ourselves during the pandemic: this, too, shall pass. We shall overcome.