By Dimithri Wijesinghe
While most Lankans are inside their homes as the coronavirus pandemic shadows the country, there has a rising concern for the unseen victims of nationally imposed curfews – persons in abusive homes.
For those in abusive relationships, this is a worst-case scenario.
Their risk is palpable as they are home with the abuser who has increased access to them, while they have decreased access to help. “There is of course an increased risk for incidents of violence. There is no way of getting out and creating space between oneself and the abuser. Would-be abusers and victims are confined to extended periods of contact,” said counselling psychologist Nivendra Uduman.
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) in the US President and CEO Ruth Glenn stated: “In this particular time, with Covid-19, home can be pretty intense for domestic violence victims and survivors, due to the abusers’ ability to further control.”
She added that this is in contrast to a normal setting where things may have been different.S “Survivors and children may have had some respite by going to work and school.”
National Hospital of Sri Lanka (NHSL) Accident and Orthopaedic Service Training and Triage Team Leader Pushpa Ramyani De Soysa, shared on her official Facebook page, where she has been keeping the public aware of the current status of the virus, that there has been a number of women who have visited the hospital to be treated for injuries suffered from attacks.
She shared on Wednesday (25): “Out of 100 patients coming to the accident ward, 10 of them were women who were attacked.” On Tuesday (24) she provided: “Amongst 21-23 patients, there were 15 women who had been attacked.”
Around the world
Protecting Environment and Children Everywhere – PEaCE (ECPAT Sri Lanka), a child rights group, also shared a statistic by the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA), providing: “Incidences of child abuse cases have increased by 33% during the period of curfew.”
The issue is not unique to Sri Lanka; Human Rights Watch (HRW) cited local Chinese media reports on the uptick in domestic abuse, and in France, Paris-based psychiatrist Marie-France Hirigoyen noted that the lockdown had triggered a “greater incidence of domestic violence for reasons including increased stress, cramped and difficult living conditions, and breakdowns in community support mechanisms”.
Domestic violence is a serious problem in France as it is estimated that a woman is murdered by a partner or ex-partner every two to three days.
HRW further wrote that “crises can often further limit women’s ability to get away from abuse, and place victims in an environment without appropriate access to services, such as a safe shelter away from abusers and accountability for abuse”.
Help is available
Women In Need Project Co-ordinator and Legal Officer Attorney-at-Law Mariam Wadood in reference to De Soysa’s claims of a spike in domestic violence cases, said that while they cannot say for certain if there has been an increase in cases reported to them, it is understood that the risk is very real and the potential for a violent altercation is high considering the circumstances.
She shared, however, that what so many survivors need is to be able to access information; any person in an abusive relationship should know that there are resources out there to help them, no matter where they are in the country. Women In Need has six offices in six different districts around the island, which provides dedicated confidential help to those in need.
Women In Need Permanent Counsellor Padma Sahaduwa also shared that as they are working with a network of professionals, all working from various parts of the island, they cannot confirm a definite spike in cases, and so far to her knowledge, the complaints they have received are the usual squabbles, seeking child support and the like. “We cannot say that there has been a particularly noticeable spike in cases,” she said.
“During the time since the curfew was imposed, what we have experienced was often cases that we have come to expect; certain family feuds that have been ongoing. However, we have received calls from certain non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and hospitals to keep a look out for incidents of violence as a precautionary measure. Even if they do not come under the epithet of violence inflicted by one’s spouse, we are remaining vigilant,” said Police Headquarters – Prevention of Abuse Against Women and Children Director Bimshani Jasin Arachchi.
Due to the prevailing situation in the island, with curfew imposed indefinitely, it is likely that rights groups and helplines have not been able to monitor the volume of incoming complaints and also, as stated above, they are operating from a scattered network focused on helping in real time.
If you yourself are at risk of being subjected to violence or are aware of someone who is likely at risk, there are avenues available for you to seek assistance. Shanuki de Alwis of the Community Crisis Response Team-LK (CCRT-LK) shared that they too can be contacted, even if it is to seek emotional support, and if not, they will field any complaints to the relevant authorities as necessary.
Additionally, there are multiple helplines in place:
24-hour caller helpline – 0114 718 585/0777 349 100
Anuradhapura – 0777 349 103
Jaffna – 0779 044 202
Badulla – 0772 083 319
Batticaloa – 0774 338 965
Matara – 0713 481 650
Sri Lanka Police Children and Women Bureau – 0112 444 444