"There's No Place Like Home!": perspectives on living with Domestic Violence and Abuse
Claire Richards from our Department of Violence Prevention, Trauma and Criminology looks at the Shadow Pandemic of violence against women and girls.
Wednesday the 25 November quietly passed by and for many people in the grip of our national lockdowns, their day ended without any great note or consequence. We have become very aware of the deadly risk of the Covid-19 virus, and many of us remain apprehensive in adjusting and continuing to take measures to reduce the virulence and impact of the virus.
Yet, there is another global pandemic in our midst that has endured and will continue to endure longer than Covid -19. Women and their children are victims of the global pandemic of Domestic Violence and Abuse. The 25 November marks the International Day Against Gender-Based Violence, the start of 16 days of activism to end violence against women, ending on the 10 December as International Human Rights Day.
The United Nations General Assembly adopted a Resolution forty years after the murders in 1960 of the Mirabal sisters, who opposed the brutal dictatorship of Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. Their violent deaths shook the world and they became symbols of the struggles of women across the world, in their own survival and resistance against violence and the abuse of power. The reality of gender-based violence gained greater recognition in being named and defined as follows.
The Covid -19 pandemic has caused devastating and traumatic consequences for women, and women with children exposed to violence and abuse in their home. For many, the message to ‘stay at home’ as part of a national or regional lockdown to be safe, is an uncomfortable paradox. Their home is far from a place of safety, and the imposed restrictions of lockdown has greatly increased the risk and perpetration of violence.
"Gender-based violence is perhaps the most widespread and socially tolerated of human rights violations…it both reflects and reinforces inequities between men and women and compromises the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims"
United Nations Population Fund, UNPFA, 2005, p.65
The closure of schools meant that children were confined to their home, for some this confinement meant staying indoors. During lockdown, the constant presence of children in the home created a pressure cooker of tensions which often erupted in violence towards their mother and to the children, either directly or indirectly. Hearing or witnessing the abuse of another, in this instance the child’s mother is recognised as a form of emotional abuse. This fact is recognised and enshrined within our domestic legislation by the Adoption and Children Act 2002.
Notably, the focus here is on gender-based violence and I am acutely aware of the counter arguments and objections, where men are also identified as victims of domestic violence, and that women are capable of violence and abuse too. It is important to acknowledge the critical concern of male-partner victimization and likewise the abhorrence and cruelty of women’s violence. But women in the context of their intimate relationship rarely murder their partner.
The Office of National Statistics (ONS, 2019) reminds us that half of all women murdered in England and Wales have been murdered by a current or ex-partner. In fact, yesterday on International Day Against Gender-Based Violence, the national Femicide Census (2020) was launched. The report reveals that men in the UK were murdering a woman every three days and in the context of an intimate relationship, a woman is murdered by a man every four days.
These are stark statistics to contemplate, particularly when we stop for a moment and think of our own families, our friends, our neighbours and our workplaces. The nature of domestic violence can sometimes mean, just like the Covid-19 virus, that is not visible. Yet, when we notice symptoms of fear and pain in the woman before us it is okay to ask if she is okay? Women often say they feel invisible or nobody noticed. During the lockdown, service providers in the frontline of domestic violence support reported that it was ‘too quiet out there’ (Øverlien, 2020, p.382). The reality of retreat and staying indoors for some victims meant that they became less visible and unnoticed.
Violence Prevention, Trauma and Criminology at Worcester
Within the Department of Violence Prevention, Trauma and Criminology we are very privileged to work with wonderful and diverse groups of students who are studying for a Masters degree in Understanding Domestic and Sexual Violence.
Ordinarily, we would facilitate a conference or training event with other agencies and professionals who work directly with victims/survivors and perpetrators of violence. The event would also promote the white ribbon as an internationally recognised symbol in activism towards the eradication of gender-based violence. This year however was different. On the 25 November we facilitated a twilight session with students to discuss and reflect on our experiences over the last eight months or so, on issues concerning domestic violence and abuse during the Covid-19 pandemic.
We shared perspectives from the experiences of children, of women as victims and from the position of service providers supporting and advocating for victims. There was an overwhelming sense among us of the devastating impact of lockdown and the lack of direct access to support for victims. We also recognised the stoic and compassionate commitment of services and individuals to meet the enormity of challenges in protecting victims. Many have carried a burden of great responsibility for others in trying circumstances, and some colleagues are at the brink of burnout and exhaustion.
Here follow some comments from two students who joined us online from Malta:
“Thinking of all the victims of domestic violence who all over the world are going through a very difficult time during this pandemic. Let us as a society reach out and do our bit no matter how small to help them. Thank you Claire, Beverly and Holly for the very interesting talk today, we are dealing with the same challenges in Malta but we must all keep strong until hopefully this pandemic will become a thing of the past”.
From Colette Maskijevic, Senior Social Worker, Domestic Violence Unit. Malta.
“Many support systems have been working remotely since the start of the pandemic, and thus, this is really hitting our service users hard. The most important institution, that is court, which our clients need to access is only working a couple of hours daily, with very few, and very spaced sessions. This is understandable, however, impacting our clients.
Work too has been seriously hit and many of our service users are either out of a job or working reduced hours due to lack of work.Other women who are lucky enough to work from home are not given the right space and proper time, and with their partners at home, they make their lives very difficult.
All this, and other issues are having a negative impact on the social workers and other professionals working within our agency. We are working mostly on crisis interventions, and even to get a woman to a shelter is a feat on its own.
We had one good break-through, and that is what my colleague mentioned which is the police hub. This is helping us immensely.”
From Rosanna, Malta.
The 16 days of activism as annual event reminds us of the harm and lethality of domestic violence and abuse. For victims and survivors across the world, there is no place like home because of the fear, isolation and abuse experienced behind closed doors. Safe spaces, whatever or wherever they might be beyond the home and where they are accessible, offer a temporary respite from abuse. We may consider the experiences of women with sympathy and concern. But the prevention of violence against women requires more than passive empathy. It requires each and every one of us to take positive action to support campaigns to eliminate violence, to become advocates for the voices of women and their children, to wear a white ribbon and get more involved in the discussion. It requires more from you and me.
Psychology can help us understand the world around us and we can specialise depending on our interests in Psychology or Criminology. Claire M Richards is am a feminist scholar and social scientist whose teaching and research within the Centre for Violence Prevention relates to the study and prevention of violence
All views expressed in this blog do not represent the views, policies or opinions of the University of Worcester or any of its partners.
Femicide Census (2020) UK Femicides Census 2099-2018 [Online].
Øverlien, C. (2020) The Covid-19 Pandemic and Its Impact on Children in Domestic Violence Refuges. Child Abuse Review. 29 :379-386
ONS (2019) Homicide in England and Wales: year ending March 2018 [Online].