Domestic violence victims at risk during isolation

All Woman

“MOM, what are we going to do now?”

The intercom broadcast from the principal on Thursday, March 12 that schools would be closed for 14 days didn't elicit the same joy in Amera, a schoolteacher, or her 13-year-old daughter, that it did in the hundreds of other students who shouted in glee at the announcement. In fact, there was dread.

“'We'll get through it' was what I remember telling her on the ride home,” Amera shared with All Woman. “But to be truthful, I didn't even know how we would, because two weeks out of school would mean two weeks home alone with him, and no escape to school.”

He's her husband... a shopkeeper who operates from a structure that was once their garage, so he was already always home. For years, theirs has been a relationship she's been unable to rationalise because there's more pain than pleasure. But as far as she could explain to All Woman, there are “so many factors at play” that make it impossible for her to leave him, even though the abuse has extended beyond their bedroom, to the presence of their children and even customers.

“My priest said we should work it out; marriage is binding,” she said. “And even if I had not received that directive I wouldn't leave anyway, because I believe, too, in for better or worse.”

'It's not all that bad'

“It's not all that bad,” explained Ophelia, whose water quality inspector husband has been on lockdown with her and the children going into week two. “The children already know the routine — don't bother daddy — and once we all stay in separate areas of the house then there is no shouting and no one feels attacked, or runs the risk of getting slapped.”

Experts world over have warned that orders from governments for isolation in the wake of COVID-19 provide a breeding ground for domestic abuse cases to spike, as some women and children, who would have been shielded from their abusers on attending work or school, are now forced into lockdown with them.

“I don't think it's something that a lot of people, or even policymakers think about when they advise you to stay home. What if home is a dangerous place?” asks counsellor David Anderson, who says he spends many days quelling domestic disputes in his east Kingston community.

“There is everything from the men abusing their women, to the men and women abusing the children, because everybody is frustrated. People have lost their jobs, their incomes, people are frustrated, the sun is hot, the children are hungry, and sometimes lashing out is a last resort,” he said.

Anderson, who is also a youth pastor, said many women and children would have also found safe spaces in their churches, apart from schools and workplaces, but quarantining would have put a pause on that safety net.

“Churches are closed, the workplaces have sent you home, and then you find yourself in a situation where 24 hours per day, seven days per week you're faced with the monsters in your life,” he said.

This past weekend the Violence Prevention Alliance (VPA), a network of organisations which focus on preventing violence through an evidence-based public health approach, encouraged Jamaicans to remain calm in the wake of the Government ordering schools closed and non-essential workers to work from home, and to educate themselves about the coronavirus and how they can protect themselves and refrain from turning to violence.

The VPA said there was a potential risk that the lockdown of families or self-isolation to prevent the spread of the virus could increase domestic violence in homes.

“That situation can be a breeding ground for domestic violence as the confinement will encourage the abuser to leverage control,” the alliance said.

The VPA further encouraged friends and family to be on the alert for signs of coercive controlling behaviour during the pandemic and to alert the relevant authorities.

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