The collective retreat into staying home as much as possible during COVID-19 is a gesture of social responsibility but for those in situations of domestic violence, life has become a claustrophobic nightmare.
It is a phenomenon we are seeing across the globe: domestic violence cases have been on the rise because of COVID-19 and the home-bound isolation it demands. Hotlines have been struggling to keep up with the volume of reports during this trying period, as victims and perpetrators are made to spend longer stretches of time together in close confines.
We know that this is a pressing problem, the news has made it abundantly clear. Yet, little information is available about seeking help for domestic violence during this period, in light of all the restrictions.
AWARE, Singapore’s leading gender equality advocacy group, has reported a 112 percent increase in calls pertaining to domestic violence in April this year, compared to the last, proving that the situation has escalated dramatically in tandem with the times.
To help understand what steps can be taken if you’re facing domestic violence in Singapore during COVID-19, we speak to Shailey Hingorani, Head of Research and Advocacy for AWARE, who offers advice.
Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, verbal or psychological. Insults, threats, humiliations, blackmail also count as domestic violence.
“Abusers often exhibit controlling behaviours, such as monitoring and limiting their victims’ movements, relationships and online activities in an attempt to isolate them from the outside world,” explained Hingorani.
Helplines to contact
AWARE’S Women’s Helpline (1800-777-5555) and Sexual Assault Care Centre Helpline (+65 779 0282) are two to reach out to. Assistance and advice, including legal consultation, will be provided remotely.
For those unable to make calls, AWARE has launched an online text chat service, where women can schedule for a 30-minute consultation to chat with a staff member for support.
Formulate a safety plan
A safety plan, Hingorani states, is a plan “in which a potential victim visualises the steps she could take in an emergency.” She advises “identifying a safe place to go, an excuse to give the abuser, a code or signal to give allies, a packed bag with a stash of emergency money and documents, and a list of numbers to call for assistance.”
Pertaining to what can be done within the household, she suggests for the abuse victim to hide dangerous items that can be used to hurt them and loved ones, as well as keeping a log of abusive incidents. Maintaining contact with people who offer support is also crucial during this time, and offers a routine that allows these individuals to be in touch with authorities if they don’t hear from her after an extended period.
Hingorani also recommends practising self-care or turning to something enjoyable as a way to keep calm.
Are there options for shelter?
Rest assured there are options to seek shelter in times of crisis.
“Social service agencies can refer callers to the crisis shelter, while also ensuring that the callers are physically healthy. Family Service Centres and Family Violence Specialist Centres, such as PAVE, Care Corner Project StART and Trans Safe Centre, have closed their physical centres, but are also offering services remotely. Callers can find out their closest FSC by calling ComCare on 1800 222 0000. Domestic violence survivors may also consider calling a hospital or the police in emergency situations,” she said.
How the wider public can assist
For those of us outside such situations and keen to offer help, there are a variety of ways to assist victims in need.
If you know someone who is going through domestic violence in Singapore, listen to their problems without judgement, show solidarity, and potentially help them formulate a safety plan if needed.
“Respect her decisions—often, individuals facing family violence are economically dependent on the offender and it is not easy for them to leave their homes,” said Hingorani.
Financial support can help immensely too. AWARE also has an ongoing Vulnerable Women’s Fund that is collecting donations for women in need, if you’d like to contribute here.