Domestic Violence During Quarantine

The coronavirus crisis around the world is exposing several millenary problems in the most distant societies. More than deficiencies in public health systems and economics, the pandemic scenario is bringing to light social problems such as racial, social, income and gender inequality.

In countries where the spread of the virus is - or was - out of control, the main medical recommendation is that people isolate themselves in their homes, as there is still no known treatment or remedy to combat the disease. Although quarantine may seem simple for people who live in a structured family environment, for many women, that means being trapped with their attackers every day for 24 hours.

In fact, the urgency of the coronavirus crisis is taking all the attention, among civil society, authorities and news media, but it is necessary to bring to debate such an important topic that has conditioned women's lives for centuries.

According to data from the Brazilian Ministry of Health, 70% of cases of gender-based violence occur inside the home and the aggressors are mostly people close to the victim, such as companions and former companions. A survey by the Brazilian Senate also highlighted last year that 36% of women in the country had already suffered domestic violence. Liliane Santos is one of them, and she is a survivor.

Now, she is divorced for almost four years, being the victim of several assaults throughout her twelve years of marriage. Today, a social worker by training, she runs a Facebook group supporting victims who have been suffering from what she suffered in the past.

Social isolation, adopted in many places around the world to curb the rate of contamination, has increased the rates of domestic violence since March, when the pandemic worsened. In April, Brazil registered a 36 percent increase in the number of complaints, compared to the same period last year. The data was compiled by the Ombudsman's Office through the complaints registered on Ligue 180. In Hubei, the Chinese province where the coronavirus appeared, the number of cases tripled in February. France recorded a 30% increase in domestic violence accusations during the lockdown. For this reason, the UN has launched a document highlighting the economic and social impacts of the pandemic on women's lives.

Experts point out that the significant increase in cases during this period may be related to factors such as social stress caused by the pandemic, the economic crisis and also the rise in alcohol and drug consumption. However, a difficult situation does not change the conduct of someone peaceful, it only intensifies the aggressive behavior of someone violent.

About the current scenario, Santos points out that the support group she manages has registered a significant growth of complaints and reports. In March, the group counted 1000 participants and today, three months later, there are more than 3000 victims sharing their stories: "Desperate women, being expelled from their homes, physically assaulted and at risk of being more victims of feminicide" points out Santos. She tells that the main objective of the group is to encourage women to denounce and tell their stories, to see that they are not alone. According to Santos, the group has an initial screening, in which the victims have to tell their stories, this measure exists for safety reasons, to prevent aggressors from passing themselves off as victims.

The fear of denouncing is a huge underreporting of cases of violence against women in the country. Especially now, with women imprisoned at home and monitored all the time by their aggressors, the act of formally denouncing is made more difficult, so many resort to support groups, such as that of Santos. The manipulation of the aggressor, the fear of being discovered also prevents the victims from taking the initiative.

When asked if the women in the group made formal complaints at the police station, Santos answered: "Not all. They are afraid". Furthermore, when they denounce, many are frustrated with the answer: "Often there is no sensitivity with the woman in the police station, which is very serious. We also understand that the victim wants an answer immediately, which is natural, but it does not happen, there is a whole process to go through", she says. Still, the support group keeps encouraging them to take courage, because denunciation is the only way to put an end to it: "You have to empower them, give them courage, because it is not easy".

Domestic violence can manifest itself in many different ways. Contrary to what many people believe, the existence of an abusive and violent relationship does not depend on punches, kicks or slaps. Psychological, patrimonial and emotional aggressions also characterise violent acts that hurt the rights of women as human beings. Santos says that the reports in the group are very similar and recurring and also argues that "violence is one" and there can be no distinction between cursing and physical aggression, as they all constitute a violation of women's rights. In conclusion, she recalls that every violent cycle begins with psychological violence evolving into feminicide.

Many people find themselves trapped in unhealthy relationships by manipulation of the aggressor, fear of denouncing or else by lack of insight into their own experience. Santos, when sharing her experience, said that she did not realize the seriousness of the situation: "I did not understand what this was [domestic violence], I thought it was my fault. I used to blame myself for everything". In 2013, when Santos entered the course of Social Work, she began to become aware of her rights and after two years she broke the relationship and the cycle of violence: "I started to understand my rights and I managed to stop it", she says.

Santos tells that, like her, who lived with her aggressor for 12 years, many of the women who tell their stories continue in relationships with their aggressors, because they believe in the change, out of financial dependence or concern for their children, to be taken away from them. The social worker also tells of the "honeymoon cycle", which is when the aggressor, after the event, shows repentance and treats the woman well, however, the cycle of violence restarts and often more serious.

At the end, Santos stresses once again the importance of reporting from victims or people who are aware of domestic violence cases: "Justice works, how it worked for me and how it works for many women. We have to wait and go the right way".

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The article above was edited by Gabriela Sartorato.  

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