The other day, I woke up to a frantic call from an acquaintance who sounded distressed. She was talking in whispers between sobs and said she hadn’t had a restful night of sleep in a while. Given my involvement with an online relationship portal, she was eager to seek help on how to deal with her situation at home, which was rapidly worsening. As she unravelled her story, I began to understand the gravity of her situation. She went on to confide in me about her marriage which had been toxic for a while as she was facing emotional and physical abuse regularly. Despite the unfortunate circumstances, she claimed she had made peace with her life for the sake of her child and found solace in the nine hours a day, her husband was at work. She claimed that these few precious hours allowed her to be at ease without the constant fear of triggering her husband’s anger. But now he is always at home and she is unable to handle the constant physical abuse of her partner.
With the lockdown nearing its fourth week, she said she was on the verge of a breakdown as she was always on the edge and feared for her life. She went on to say that the slightest disturbance like putting utensils away loudly while her husband watched TV would result in physical abuse and defamation of her character. Many women like her continue to stay in abusive marriages and suffer in silence for reasons like children, financial constraints, fear, etc. With the current sociopolitical climate, tensions are running higher than ever, and there is an increase in the consumption of alcohol and narcotics. These factors combined to create more at-risk situations for victims of abuse. No wonder the National Commission of Women reported that the percentage of domestic violence cases have doubled during lockdown in India.
As we contain the virus by urging people to #stayhome, we must be more vigilant of the rising cases of domestic violence and the detrimental toll this is taking on the mental well-being of victims. While we collectively mourn the lives lost to the COVID-19 pandemic, deal with crashing economies, and salute the healthcare workers that are risking their lives, we mustn’t turn a blind eye to the victims of domestic abuse; it is essential to acknowledge the struggles of these victims who are now indefinitely confined within their homes with their abusers. There has been a global surge of domestic violence since coronavirus lockdowns. While the world is busy battling a deadly disease, and in many cases their boredom, it is easy to get desensitised to the plight of domestic violence victims amongst staggering reports of hunger, poverty, and death. As a global society, we must protect the most vulnerable during these extraordinary circumstances and support one another. After NGOs reported an increase in the number of cases of domestic violence the Delhi High Court directed that immediate steps should be taken to safeguard the victims.
The surge in domestic violence has made the situation difficult for women and children as they have no escape from home.
The article below lists ways that you can read between the lines and identify signs of abuse among those in your network, as well as measures recommended by experienced therapists and lawyers that may help in mitigating the situation.
Signs and symptoms of domestic abuse
The following signs have been put together through both primary and secondary research. Below are commonly identified signs and behavioural patterns of someone going through abuse but are not definitive. Reach out to your loved ones and offer them the support they need. If you feel like you or someone you know is at risk, please seek help immediately.
- In the past, you may have noticed them being frequently covered in bruises. They will show patterns of abuse by having injuries consistent with punching, choking, and being knocked down. They will not have sound explanations for these and will often blame it on their clumsiness.
- For victims, it is not uncommon to try to conceal these wounds. You may have noticed that they only wear full-sleeved clothes and scarves, even in the peak of summer. You may notice that they wear heavier than normal make-up and get uncomfortable if anyone catches a glimpse of their marks. Wearing sunglasses indoors is common among victims of domestic abuse as well.
- You might even notice changes in their psyche; for example, they may be suffering from a sense of hopelessness and despair. You would have noticed this in your conversations with them. Additionally, they may be coming across as extremely apologetic, more agitated and anxious, and fearful.
- Victims of abuse may also be contemplating suicide, and you may have noticed a change in their sleeping patterns. They’re either sleeping excessively or infrequently.
- Similarly, you may have also noticed they exercise extreme caution around their abuser and are eager to please them. They will be very private about their relationship with the abuser and may have cut-off communication from close friends and family.
- They are reserved and distant, no longer derive pleasure from activities they previously enjoyed and maybe cancelling plans and appointments at the last minute with feeble excuses.
Because of unemployment during lockdown, alcoholic husbands have become even more abusive. There are many other signs of victims suffering from domestic violence, and you must trust your instinct and gut to reach out to them. Victims may not feel comfortable speaking of their abuse directly, and you may have to pick up on non-verbal cues. Pay attention to their tone of voice, the openness and frequency with which they talk to you, as well as their mood. It never hurts to check on a loved one, even if your assumption is off-base.
Therapist Tells You How To Deal With Domestic Abuse
The lockdown has presented victims of abuse with a challenging situation where they must prioritise their safety both from the virus as well as their abuser. It becomes crucial to protect oneself, especially during the pandemic, as one cannot go out and seek help, or intervention because of social distancing.
Experienced and licensed therapist, Kavita Panyam, shares the following ways one can protect themselves during these trying times when one has no option but to use precautions, along with the presence of mind.
Let us take a look at what can be done to safeguard yourself.
1. Hide sharp objects
Make sure to hide all sharp objects like knives, scissors, and other potentially dangerous and heavy objects. Store them away safely, so the abuser does not have access to these potentially harmful objects. The abuser may use these objects to hurt you if the mental unrest increases.
2. Distract the abuser
When conversations are taking a negative turn, and you fear the onset of violence, please defuse the situation by distracting the abuser. You could do this by requesting a mutual relative or friend call you, or you may watch TV or go to another room. Other activities like cooking or busying yourself with a hobby might always reduce the severity of the situation. The goal is to keep rising tempers at bay through behavioural intervention.
3. Maintain a distance
If the abuser is an alcoholic, it is important to maintain distance when your partner is under the influence. Might also be helpful to lock yourself and other at-risk members, like children, in a room away from the abuser. Do not initiate any controversial conversations when the abuser is consuming alcohol or other narcotics.
4. Limit conversation
Try to avoid agitating the abuser by limiting conversation to need-based topics. During the lockdown, it is best to refrain from requesting favours and assistance from the abuser as this could trigger them. This might mean that you will have to work alone and manage chores singlehandedly; don’t let this demotivate you or overwhelm you, work at your own pace to the best of your abilities.
5. Sleep separately
If you have a history of abuse, maintain distance with the abuser throughout the lockdown. Try to keep interactions to a minimal, might even be helpful to sleep in separate rooms.
If the abuser is demanding excessive sex, you may want to sleep in the children’s room instead or in a separate room with the doors locked. Going off to sleep early may help the situation as well.
It is also crucial to maintain your peace of mind in order to best deal with the situation. Mindfulness activities like meditation are recommended. Mindfulness is a good way to feel the present moment in totality, without, causing turbulence in the mind as you are able to accept the present moment and remain calm.
7. Confide in friends
Talk to friends over the phone, confide in them if you feel comfortable and they may be able to offer you an opportunity to vent and a shoulder to cry on. If you feel sad, depressed and lonely, a support group can be beneficial. As an alternative, it could also be helpful to seek online relationship counselling.
8. Take time off from chores
Remember, your peace, good health, and a stable mindset are more important than anything else at this point in time. So, take some time off from your daily schedule, and try to meditate and indulge in activities that bring you peace and happiness.
Legal guidelines for reporting domestic abuse
If the situation at home has escalated and cannot be contained with the tactics mentioned above, you must bring in the legal intervention.
Experienced lawyers urge victims to report the violence at local police stations as it is a cognisable offence and this allows them the right to file an FIR as well as warrant an arrest. The victims are protected under section 498a of the Indian Penal Code. The police can also further take the victims for a medical check-up as well as transport them to a relative or friend’s house where they can reside until the lockdown is over. Should the victim need to cross state borders to get to safety, the police can also help them file for permission, and the results are typically available within 12 hours. The police will most likely not let you return to your marital home after registration of an FIR, since the same may draw further abuse from the perpetrator.
The police have been extremely vigilant and supportive and will investigate once the crime has been reported. Within 24 hours of the arrest, the accused must be presented in front magistrate where the police can ask for extended custody, known as remand, in order to investigate the matter further and put together a charge sheet. This can often be negotiated, and the court may order judicial custody as opposed to police custody where the accused remains in lock-up not as a convict but as an individual pending trial. Once the charge sheet has been filed, the trial may begin.
Women must be informed that custody of the child remains with the mother unless a court order says other. Additionally, it helps to keep recordings to abusive text messages, medical reports, and other forms of evidence.
With a surge in domestic violence both in India and abroad it is pertinent to know how to deal with the situation during lockdown and ensure that abuse does not happen.
The national domestic protection helpline, also available via Whatsapp is +917217736272