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Violence Against Women
Impact of COVID-19 on Domestic Violence

Impact of COVID-19 on Domestic Violence

Author: Aleena Ahmed

The COVID 19 pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges for everyone, but particularly has intensified them for women living with abusive family members.  In Punjab alone, two emergency helplines, PUCAR-15 and PSCA-A5, have recorded a dramatic rise in reports since the beginning of the pandemic, with PUCAR-15 reporting a staggering 25% increase. Unfortunately, while the number of reported cases may be on the rise, help available for victims is diminishing. 

Pakistan is not alone in witnessing this alarming increase in domestic violence over the past year.  In the UK, calls to the national abuse hotline escalated by 65%, while in China, reports of domestic violence cases to the local police tripled last year.  Similar trends were witnessed in the Eastern Mediterranean Region, with many countries reporting increases of over 50%. Rozan, an organization supporting women’s rights, reported that mandatory quarantines resulting in restricted movement have become an added stressor for those facing pre-existing limitations on space. These have forced families to spend more time together, an environment in which stress can intensify. Economic and health-related uncertainty caused by the pandemic, such as increased unemployment and reduced access to hospitals, are further stressors behind abusers’ increased hostility towards their partners. 

Suffice it to say, the COVID pandemic has contributed towards a deplorable pandemic of domestic violence. As the world’s attention is focused on developing vaccines to stem the spread of COVID-19, let us resolve to fight domestic violence. In the short term, we must encourage victims to reach out to community resources such as help-centers and helplines.  According to multiple reports from women, such shelters have provided the monetary, legal, and rehabilitative help needed to escape their abusive circumstances. In addition to Rozan, there are many domestic violence centers and helplines victims in Pakistan can turn to; local domestic violence helplines include 1099 and 1043. Shelters include the Panah Shelter in Karachi, Dar-ul-Aman shelter in Lahore and the Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Center in Islamabad. 

Individuals can pursue legislative action through collectivizing and demanding implementation of restorative justice mechanisms: legislative mechanisms that aim the focus of the court’s power on helping the victims. All parties involved in the complaint converge on the resolution that most effectively provides the victim with closure and empowerment, centering their needs. A study conducted in Salt Lake City, Utah in which abusers were assigned either into a traditional batterer intervention program or a hybrid traditional-plus-restorative justice program, indicated that participants from the hybrid program showed a 52% decline in the severity of new crimes over a two-year period. 

Another course of action can be implemented through the healthcare sector: training of healthcare professionals on intimate partner violence so they can build their expertise, and subsequently undertake screening – a means of identifying victims of domestic violence. Such professionals can also advocate for greater psychological and legal support for victims. A greater emphasis needs to be placed on medico-legal departments, those in which the fields of medicine and law converge, in public hospitals in Pakistan. Such departments can help victims by providing other healthcare workers with guidance and knowledge on effective management of domestic violence victims. 

We have resolved to win the fight against COVID-19.  Let us also resolve to win the fight against domestic violence.

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