By Vaila Bhaumick

Is it a shock though? We’re oh so good at looking the other way. You only have to look at the outpouring of pain in the US at the moment because of ingrained, ignored, systemic racism to know that we don’t live in a healthy society. And that’s just one symptom.

Another symptom is domestic abuse, and the statistics are there for all to see. The global pandemic has shone a spotlight on these societal ills. With less distraction, and forced ‘stay at home’ orders, there’s literally and figuratively nowhere to run.

It’s time to face up to the ugly truth. Why on earth does it take a crisis to realise this?

Let’s Take A Step Back And Define Domestic Abuse

Women’s Aid UK defines domestic abuse as “an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence, in the majority of cases by a partner or ex-partner, but also by a family member or carer.”

Domestic abuse or violence can be perpetrated by men or women, however, statistically, women are at a higher risk of being repeatedly victimised, sustaining serious injury or being killed. Women are also more likely to experience extreme fear, and so fall prey to coercive and controlling behaviours.

Lockdown Spike

Enter the global pandemic. Millions of people are confined to their homes across the world, experiencing isolation, fear and anxiety. While some of us reluctantly, but cheerfully, tried to navigate the cliff dive into online work and Zoom quizzes, others sank into a fresh hell of being trapped at home with their abusers.

It’s a well-known phenomenon that we take out anger and aggression on those closest to us. During ‘normal times’ we get a break from domestic situations and interact with far more people. In recent months, we’ve been confined at home, with no respite from each other, nor any social outlets. For abusers, that aggression, teamed with isolation, has led to more frequent incidents of domestic abuse. 

One UK domestic abuse charity experienced a 66% rise in call volume to its helpline since lockdown began. Visits to their website have also skyrocketed by a shocking 950%

I think it’s important to note that this isn’t a new problem, and coronavirus certainly isn’t to blame for it. Domestic abuse is ubiquitous, but it’s happening more often and is leading to more deaths currently. Underfunded services have appealed to governments to consider victims who are fleeing abuse when creating guidelines for essential travel.

Is It Everywhere?

Behavioural patterns during the pandemic have differed region to region, and the same goes for domestic violence. Some countries have seen no change in cries for help, or have reported a lull. But is it what it seems?

While helpline calls and incidents have soared in countries like Bulgaria, Belgium, the UK and France, others have reported a silence, which is perhaps a little eerie. Canada’s shelters have seen a drop in demand, as have Denmark’s, spurring fears that victims are just not able to make the call because they’re never alone.

There’s no getting away from it—this is a huge problem. What would you do if you were told to stay home for months when actually home is the most dangerous place to be? It’s a horrifying state of affairs, and we shouldn’t have needed a pandemic to show us that.

What Does This Say About Society?

Now we’ve admitted there’s a problem, we need to solve it. That’s easier said than done.It’s so complex with multiple explanations as to why abusers abuse. Often, abusers themselves have suffered significant trauma, have a disorder, or have been influenced by the violence surrounding us. This doesn’t justify abuse by any means,  it’s always wrong, but understanding the ‘why’ can help victims heal.

So how do we break the cycle? I don’t want to oversimplify this because it’s not a simple issue. But one thing is clear to me — we need to stop normalising violence and reinforcing our ‘tough shells’. How sick must our society be that we’re abusing the ones most dear to us? We’re all walking around with unresolved traumas that go back generations and with anger and hate inside us.

It’s time to change. Domestic abuse has been bubbling under the surface for the longest time. The pandemic has produced much talk of ‘changing our ways’ but is it all just talk?

I’ll leave you with a challenge, from none other than Martin Luther King Jr: “The ultimate measure of a human is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand at times of challenge and controversy.” 

Time to stop looking the other way and decide where you stand—on abuse, discrimination, and everything else we’ve swept under the carpet for too long.