Updated: Jul 24
It has been 51 days since the community quarantine was implemented by the Philippine government to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The government told us to stay at home, where it's safe. But what's up with the increasing cases of domestic violence?
Trigger Warning: Content includes mentioning of abuse and domestic violence.
Staying at Home: Safe or Not?
The Philippines entered a state of lockdown under the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) last March 16. These measures restricted mobility of employees and business establishments were forced to temporarily cease operations. Basically, the idea is to lessen the amount of people who interact in public spaces to avoid further contagion. Initially set to end by April 12, the ECQ got extended to May 15. The government encourages citizens to stay at home unless otherwise deemed necessary. With this, only skeletal employees and frontliners were reporting for work. At the same time, work-from-home setup and online classes were arranged for those who could do so.
As more people have no choice but to stay at home, various human rights movements and government officials have foreseen the spike in domestic abuse cases worldwide. In an interview with Senator Gatchalian pre-ECQ, it was confirmed that a total of 9,935 cases of domestic abuse were reported in Q2 of 2019. On average, that's around 109 victims - mostly women and children - who are subject to violence in their own homes. And that's before the lockdown! Senator Risa Hontiveros, who has been a consistent champion for gender equality, shared her worries in an official press release last April 15. The senator warns, "Because of the proximity in the home and added stress due to economic hardship brought by the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), Filipino women and children who are living with their abusers become more vulnerable to violence...There is a pattern. For places that have implemented a lockdown, from China to France, there is an increase of domestic violence in cases reported to the authorities."
Italy was able to proceed with lockdown measures in early March and as reports of domestic violence grew, victims ran out of alternative shelters to go to due to risk of overcrowding and infection.
Around 200 women in Mexico have been murdered after quarantine was implemented in the country.
Meanwhile, in France, about 30% more cases were reported to the police. Pharmacies in the country also have a codeword for those who would like to report domestic violence but might be restricted of afraid to go the police.
The Deal with Domestic Abuse
It's such a counter-intuitive thing that the place people should feel safest right now is actually their own personal hell. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, victims of abuse may have had various pockets of escape: going to work or school, running errands, and talking to friends. Now, abusers have more access to their victims. And with the heightened stress and uncertainty, likeliness of domestic abuse increases.
Victims of domestic abuse are mostly women and children since they are in a more vulnerable position in a strongly patriarchal society. In heterosexual households wherein women are stay-at-home moms, men are usually the breadwinners and are in control of the finances. Battered wives put up with the abuse to ensure their children are provided for and are sheltered.
Even in today's age where women are supposedly more empowered, we still see cases of girls and women being abused by friends and family members. Why is this so? Why are women the primary targets of domestic abuse? The short answer: sexism. In our formative years , we are taught that boys have to be strong and that getting in touch with emotions translate to weakness. Conversely, we are trained to be girls full of emotions and that "boys will be boys". They tell us that when boys tease us or offend us, it means they are just trying to fight for our attention in the name of love. TV shows and books at home and in schools also display this misconstrued concept of love. All these things stay with us as we grow up. Abusers are able to justify their actions while victims tend to give more chances and dole out forgiveness in the spirit of keeping the family together.
To add to the misogynistic sentiment, Filipino culture treats some cases of domestic violence as"usapang mag-asawa" (marital affair) which promotes the idea that spouses should be able to solve problems all on their own. With this, most instances of abuse are kept behind closed doors and remain unreported.
According to Judith Lewis Herman, a Harvard Medical School expert on trauma, "common tools of abuse include isolation from friends, family and employment; constant surveillance; strict, detailed rules for behavior; and restrictions on access to such basic necessities as food, clothing and sanitary facilities." In other words, the current lockdown situation becomes an apparatus for abuse.
Flattening the Curve
What's important to note here is that it's not the pandemic's fault that there are cases of domestic violence. COVID-19 simply influenced the spike in the numbers as quarantine measures provided the abusers more hold of their victims. Take away COVID-19 from the world and the problem still persists. This said, how can we lend a hand to lessen and eventually eliminate this issue? How can we flatten the curve of domestic abuse cases?
1. Check on your friends, co-workers, and family. Some victims portray a happy and satisfied life despite what happens behind closed doors. Checking in on your friends and family might just provide these survivors with the resolve to seek help.
2. Donate to fundraisers dedicated to the cause. If you're financially secure while in lockdown, you may opt to support the cause by donating some extra funds. A little truly goes a long way. As shelters become overcrowded, supplies also run short. If you would like to donate goods, basic necessities like food, clothing, and menstrual products are the top priorities.
3. Dig deeper. Abuse is a power dynamic issue; abusers project toward their victims in the form of violence in an attempt to cover up their own personal insecurities and unresolved issues. As we teach our boys that they should have manly strength, and that such strength is rooted on their lack of emotion, we are forming the toxic masculine of tomorrow.
Still, as adults, we can UNLEARN toxic habits taught to us during our formative years. Dig deeper and eliminate the root of the problem by empowering our girls to know and value their worth and by letting our boys get in touch with their emotions. Teach them that no one deserves to be discriminated because of their gender. Impart in them the heart to recognize that violence - psychological, physical, sexual - is wrong and must not be used as a tool to express love.
4. Help with healing. If you're state of mental health is prepared to listen to survivors and recurring victims of abuse, you may volunteer for various organizations like Lunas Collective that are boosting their workforce to support the increasing calls and messages in these trying times.
If you or anyone you know are experiencing any form of domestic violence, you may contact the following services or desks:
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/LunasCollective/
PNP-Women and Children Protection Center (WCPC)
24/7 AVAWCD Office: 8532-6690
NBI-Violence Against Women and Children Desk (VAWCD)
Hotline: (02) 8525-6028
Women and Child Protection Units
This post is sponsored by Simula PH.