- Reports of domestic violence have dropped while the actual violence has soared. According to a survey, women are seeking help only in extreme violence.
We cannot tell you their names or how they look or where they stay or how old their children may be. All identifiers have been blurred. We can only reveal a little about three women we know trying to survive in a condition termed the ‘shadow pandemic’*.
‘Shadow pandemic’, the flaring up of domestic violence in the shuttered existence of the lockdown. So close, but we cannot see or hear it. And if we do, we cannot talk about it.
How are they doing, these three plucky women?
Aarti shushes her infant when she cries, muffling the sounds with her garment. Even a child’s cry for milk can be a provocation for a slap or volley of abuse. And not just from her husband but by the family at large. Of course, she is at fault, didn’t she produce a girl child? So Aarti tries hard to make herself as invisible as a ghost. This is tough as everybody’s at home.
Aarti is nobody’s fool. She has charted it all in her mind. She is going to be the sole custodian of her child, and of herself. She will once again make use of her professional skills. She will move from this hell once all legal aspects are completely addressed. Yes, she will make a safe home for her child.
But everything is under lockdown.
Though Aarti has found a way to call us without leaving traces of the call, opportunities to do so are rare. We have been available for her round the clock, working frantically to get all the answers. Slow lockdown responses are stretching out her ‘incarceration’. Our conversations are quick and sharp. The fear from her side is palpable. Each day she is in danger.
We have not heard from her in a few days.
Farzana is on her own now, with her young son, but there is no peace. She has changed the locks. She always keeps the blinds drawn. The restraining order on her husband does not seem to work. She is always afraid. He is sometimes lurking at the store around the corner, waiting to catch his terrified child and shout obscenities at her. He would stalk her to work almost daily, but now she is laid off work with the lockdown — and losing her job has been almost the last straw.
Anxiety and depression have overtaken her life and her son’s life too unfortunately.
At least Farzana can talk to us anytime, just every time she feels she cannot cope or has a panic attack. We are helping her stay ahead on her rent. We have been able to connect her to a psychiatrist. It looks like we see a new stronger Farzana emerging. She may soon even get the strength to take legal action.
Monika’s story makes us all break out in smiles. As a young bride, she came to the United States. In a short amount of time, her husband duped her into divorce and left her with a child. She had not known what papers she was signing. Despite no formal skills, not much English, and with help from us, Monika saw she had what it takes to be functional in a store. Quickly picking up spoken English through classes arranged by us, she has gone from strength to strength and despite lockdown odds, is now juggling two jobs. Her bank balance is looking respectable. Her child is doing well too and is being tutored by an ASHA volunteer as schools are shut.
We are ASHA for Women, a nonprofit with a mandate to provide guidance and support to women and children in abusive homes and empower them to achieve lives of stability and peace. In each case an advocate who shares the client’s cultural markers is the ‘lifeline’, always available, always trying to resolve issues, alert to the safety of the client and her children, never imposing a course of action but showing the way ahead.
Since March, our work has become incredibly difficult. We are unable to connect with many of our clients.
Surveys worldwide are repeating the same disturbing analysis: Reports of domestic violence have dropped while the actual violence has soared. A study by a Massachusetts hospital says that the incidence and severity of injuries is much higher, indicating that women are seeking help only in extreme violence. Medical attention is not being sought for relatively minor physical injuries caused by assaults, which leads us to the worrying question: how are these trapped women attending to their emotional and physical wounds?
Being Aware and Alert
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and this year with the lockdown we will not be seeing many purple ribboned marches. But we can participate by having conversations and sharpening perceptions. A social call to a friend is not deemed suspicious activity by a perpetrator. The onus of noticing signs of violence, physical or non-physical, is on us. Go ahead and call that friend, co-worker or loved one that you suspect may be suffering.
If you know anyone who is being abused by her partner, call us for advice on what to do next. Everything you say will be treated in total confidence. You need not give us your name or the name of the person who is being abused. Or better yet, give them our toll-free hotline and email address so they feel empowered by that first step.
Domestic Violence Helpline: 1-888-417-2742
More about our work: www.ashaforwomen.org
*the term ‘shadow pandemic’ was first used by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women. Top illustration by kartavyasadhana.in.