By Edith Mecha
The UN Women declared violence against women and girls as “a shadow epidemic alongside Covid19”. Their reports show that, globally, 243 million women and girls aged 15-49 have been subjected to sexual and/or physical violence perpetrated by an intimate partner in the previous 12 months. There is a possibility of the number escalating as security, health and money worries heighten tensions and strains are accentuated by cramped and confined living conditions.
The number of cases keeps on intensifying. Recent data from UNFPA suggests a 600% increase in number of cases of women going through gender-based violence globally. The WHO now estimates an additional 31 Million cases if lockdown persists for the next 6 months.
In East Africa, based on recent statistics from FIDA Kenya, physical, emotional, mental, economic and intimate partner violence cases constitute 81 out of 289 cases reported through their toll-free line between April 15 to May 3. FIDA Uganda reported a 522% increase in reported domestic violence cases by phone since lockdown with a possibility of many more cases unreported. Violence against children has soared with the Uganda Child Helpline recording 881 cases since lockdown against the average of 248. These high numbers are because of the stay at home orders to curb Covid19. They are placing women and girls at more dangerous contact with perpetrators while reducing access to support services.
The numbers are scary and demonstrate an urgent need for various stakeholders and partners to collaborate to come up with strategies to ensure safety of women and girls. UN Women advocates for the inclusion of all protective services for women and girls in all countries’ action plans on COVID-19. Services like domestic shelters, sexual and reproductive health, justice mechanisms, and hotlines should be classified as essential. It is also a time for governments to financially support women escaping from abuse to help them gain stability. Women escaping from abuse during lockdown hours should not be arrested but protected and helped to access safe spaces, medical and legal services.
Studies indicate that it may take up to seven attempts at leaving before a victim successfully leaves the abuser for good. According to a University of Illinois journal article by Lyndal Khaw, there are five stages that have been identified in leaving an abusive relationship.
Stage 1 and 2: Starting to not care for your abuser anymore and disconnecting emotionally from the abusive relationship.
Stage 3: Noticing the effects of the abuse, and starting to prepare to leave, as well as leaving itself.
Stage 4: Going back to the relationship. There is a lot of back and forth because of a lot of emotions. Survivors need clarity, but they also want to be physically and emotionally connected again.
Stage 5: Actually leaving an abusive relationship. Being gone for six months or more marks this last stage.
Leaving is not an easy nor simple thing for many survivors experiencing the physical, emotional, psychological, sexual abuse. Especially during this pandemic considering the financial burdens because of job losses. It will be a bit difficult but one of the best things one will ever do. It should be remembered that it is never a victim’s fault to stay in an emotionally or physically abusive relationship. That is why it is important to know these stages to help one gain clarity and make the decision to end an abusive and unhealthy relationship. If you aren’t sure if your partner is emotionally abusing you, read The 8 Signs of Emotional Abuse.
Service providers also need to look for creative ways to speak with the victim to understand which stage they are at inorder to guide on preparing a safety plan. Each safety plan is characteristic of a survivor’s situation. With the stay at home orders making it difficult for victims to have lengthy calls and chats, interventions like codewords, code numbers and no chat should be used to ensure help is still accessible. Safety can be an ongoing concern for many people affected by violence.
There is urgent need for a safety plan that will keep the survivor and any children, physically, psychologically, and emotionally safe. Make a plan of how you will leave, where you will go and how to cover your tracks. I have created a simple list to help you or someone you care about leave an abusive partner when the time is right.
- Put together an emergency bag with your essentials and that you can easily carry when you leave. Some of the things to include:
- Money, debit/credit cards, and cheque books
- Phone numbers for family, friends, police, national domestic violence helpline, doctors, schools, bank, taxi services, domestic violence organizations
- Copies of children birth certificates, immunization cards, school records, identification documents.
- Driving licenses, car spare keys, medical cards and records, property certificates, critical work documents, legal documents, insurance records, marriage certificates, and copies of any court orders.
- Any medication that you or your children take
2. Identify a trusted close friend or relative who can hide the emergency bag for you. It should be someone nearby and in an accessible place according to lockdown restrictions.
3. Identify what clothes you and your children will need. Select like five pairs of decent clothes including school uniforms for the children.
4. Keep safely any evidence of the physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. Things like a dated picture of bruises or cuts, torn or bloody clothing, objects used to harm you, pictures of a destroyed home, threatening voice mails, texts and emails and anything that could show you were abused.
5. Change your computer and phone passwords and ensure there is no active device tracking.
6. Plan your exit. Leave when the abuser least expects. You don’t have to wait for the next abuse. You can go to the grocery store or a relative’s place and never come back.
7. Speak with police to get a protective order from the abuser.
8. Rehearse an escape plan, so in case of an emergence you and your children can leave safely.
9. Keep a journal of all the happenings. This helps you to have clarity and peace.
10. If you suspect your partner is about to attack move to a lower risk place where you can easily get out. Avoid places like the kitchen and bathroom.
11. If you plan on leaving with your children, speak to a lawyer who specializes in custody. Several organizations are offering free legal services during this pandemic. Reach out to them.
12. Create code language to communicate with a trusted friend or person from a domestic shelter about your exit plans. Do not share plans with other people.
Safety planning forms a critical component in the fight against domestic violence during these turbulent times. These plans help manage risks, pinpoint available resources, and create measures to increase one’s safety and well-being.
If you need to create or develop a safety plan, there is help. Call the domestic abuse free hotlines in your country for assistance.
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