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The Worrisome Reason COVID Exposed More Women To Violence

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The Worrisome Reason COVID Exposed More Women To Violence

In creating rigid stay-at-home orders and COVID restrictions, the pandemic has produced the ideal environment for domestic violence to surge. 

This should not have come as any surprise, we have known for years that domestic abuse rises during the holidays and summer vacations.

Yet little has been done to protect victims as they search for help and refuge without being able to leave home

The lack of immediate support has forced victims across the world to look for help online. Social media is one of our few lifelines during the pandemic, and a recent study has found that this has been a vital lifeline for women and girls who are disproportionately affected by domestic abuse.

Quilt AI, an insights company, conducted their COVID-19 and Violence Against Women: The Evidence Behind The Talk study to measure how victims have been searching for advice and aid in situations of crisis. 

The research focused on vulnerable groups in 8 Asian countries and examined some of the keywords women and girls have been searching for over the course of the pandemic. 

The women behind these searches are looking for help but many won’t be able to access it. 

Keywords like “domestic abuse hotlines” and “sexual abuse counseling” increased by up to 70% in some countries. 

Yet the study found an apparent distrust in the law and the ability to find justice with only searchers from Nepal and Bangladesh actively seeking legal information and aid. Turning to the law appears not to be a viable option for many women which isolates them further from help. 

The study also found cries for help online from people who feel governments are doing very little to deter domestic violence. By continuously advancing stay-at-home orders without addressing the danger this creates in some households, domestic abuse victims are being sacrificed for public health. 

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Equally terrifying is the number of victim-blaming and misogynistic social media posts emerging in discussions around violence against women and girls. 

Women seeking out information about domestic violence on social media can expect to find that up to 25% of the posts will be criticizing victims. 

The study quotes some social media users who say, “What happened is 90% the fault of the girl” and “Sexual violence occurs because the perpetrator is influenced by alcohol.” 

Though there are plenty of helpful, supportive comments on social media also, the findings reflect a disturbing reality that women are deterred from speaking out against abuse when they see their peers condemning victims of domestic violence online. 

One social media post in India from victims of domestic abuse claimed that “no one helps” in times of crisis while another stated, “If you raise your voice against injustice, you’ll be considered character-less, and they’ll threaten to charge you as a thief.”

Rising unemployment figures have a direct correlation with increased domestic violence. 

This is partially due to abusers being at home with the victims more but it also has ties to increased financial abuse

In Singapore, for example, search queries relating to financial abuse have risen sharply, with keywords like “husband controls finances” and “husband controls all the money” up 100% over the course of the pandemic.

Other searches signaling physical abuse included keywords such as “physical abuse signs”, “violent relationships”, “cover bruises on face”. In Malaysia, the Philippines, and Nepal, these grew by 47%, 63%, and 55%, respectively, between October 2019 and September 2020. 

These search queries also included specific references to “men hitting women,” “spouse abuse,” “boyfriend hit me,” and “controlling men” or “controlling husband”.

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Analysis of the activity of vulnerable migrant women in Asia reveals how important it is for advocacy against domestic violence to be intersectional. 

These women are typically more isolated from outside support due to possible language barriers, lack of familial support, and more vulnerable legal statuses. Thus, their needs are neglected. 

These women are actively seeking mental health supports, sexual abuse counseling, and unemployment support in worryingly high numbers.

In spite of the alarming nature of the study findings, there is one positive takeaway: increased discourse around domestic violence. 

While not all of the comments and searches reflect a change in attitudes about how victims should be looked after, plenty of NGOs and advocates are using social media to offer assistance and information to victims of domestic violence no matter their legal status or background. 

The study recommends we be more vocal online to provide actionable steps for victims of domestic violence by offering numbers for helplines and links to resources. 

But it is also important to acknowledge the voices and experiences of women who do not have access to online support or are not digitally literate. 

The searches are made by real women who need aid, but there are many more who do not even know how to look for help.

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If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic abuse or violence, there are resources to get help. There are ways to go about asking for help as safely as possible. For more information, resources, legal advice, and relevant links visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline. For anyone struggling from domestic abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). If you’re unable to speak safely, text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474 or log onto thehotline.org.

Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Catch her covering all things social justice, news, and entertainment.