Locked Up In The Most Dangerous Place: Home
137 women are murdered every day. Half of those are murdered by someone they know, a family member, partner, or ex-partner. More than 60 percent of these murders happen inside the home. 60 percent of femicides happen in their homes. I think this bears repeating (and repeating): the most dangerous place for women is her home.
For everyone with any knowledge or experience with intimate partner violence (IPV), violence against women, or feminist theory, one of the first things we thought of when we heard the world going into quarantines was — this will be (more) unsafe for women. The UN estimates that cases of intimate partner violence have increased by 20 percent since lockdowns began. This will come as no surprise to anyone who knows, from experience or from statistics, that worldwide, the home is the most dangerous place for women.
The UN has also described the worldwide increase in domestic abuse as a ‘shadow pandemic’ alongside Covid-19. (https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-53014211). Thank you, UN. In reality, this pandemic has been raging for thousands of years, and it is finally emerging from the shadows. Thank you, Covid-19 for throwing the world so out of balance that we are forced to look at these messy parts of humanity, the cracks in our societies, our deeply and disturbingly flawed systems.
Overwhelmingly, when we tug on a thread of one problem, we see how it is connected to all the others, interwoven in a giant web. And many, if not all, of these issues, like systemic and institutionalized racism; child slavery and trafficking; displaced persons and refugee crisis around the world; starvation and abandonment of entire countries; the continued theft and domination of indigenous persons, cultures and lands; and climate change are all connected through the grossly unfair power dynamics of white supremacist, imperialist patriarchal control. We are seeing all these problems more intensely than ever.
Intimate Partner Violence and Lockdowns:
A UN Women Report confirms a global increase in emergency calls with 30% increase in France and Cyprus, 35% in Singapore, 25% in Argentina, and China’s Jianli County received 162 reports of domestic violence in February–compared to 47 during the period last year. In Phoenix, Arizona, calls related to domestic violence doubled since the beginning of the pandemic and in the UK, femicides have doubled since the lockdowns began.
A new study out of Boston, Massachusetts found that physicians at a large hospital in Boston saw a near-doubling of the proportion of domestic abuse cases that resulted in physical injury in comparison with previous years. Additionally, injuries treated were dramatically more severe, including fractured bones and bruised and punctured organs. Healthcare workers are concerned that victims delayed seeking care even as violence escalated.
For anyone who didn’t hear the word ‘quarantine’ and immediately think, what about women…here is a little breakdown of the why.
We already saw the well-researched statistics about femicide. There is too much research to sort through this short article to succinctly present data about all the other physical, verbal, and emotional abuse that happens within the home. Women (and also children, the elderly, differently-abled, or anyone with any intersecting identities of oppression) are not safe at home when they are trapped with their oppressor or abuser.
So why is lockdown worse for women? Well if women have not been safe at home ever, then they are even less safe when they are required to be at home all the time, locked down, locked in with their abusers or potential abusers. Add in the increased stress and panic of a global pandemic, the anxiety of job insecurity, the burdens of managing online work and school on top of normal care for the family, and tensions that already exist will be intensified and paths to safety more difficult to access.
In many countries, research shows a significant increase in emergency calls related to IPV during soccer/fútbol games. In England, research shows that instances of IPV increased by 27.7 percent when England one and by 31.5 percent when their team lost. In Costa Rica, during games, an average of 150 more calls are received by police than usual. If 150 men per game in Costa Rica are incapable of managing their emotional reactions while watching fútbol on television, how many men worldwide might be incapable of managing their pandemic stress-related emotions while locked inside with their families? My guess is a lot. The UN’s guess is a 20 percent increase compared to the normal day-to-day violence that usually exists.
I acknowledge that this is loaded with binary language. I recognize that not all men. That not all violence is unidirectional, from men to women. That anyone with an identity of oppression is vulnerable to violence, black people in North America; indigenous, migrants, and refugees all over the world; children, elderly and differently-abled; LGBTQI identifying persons; poor, rural, and people with fewer privileges and less access to resources are all extremely vulnerable to various forms of institutional and IPV. But. Violence against women is a specific problem and requires specific research and solutions.
The research about violence against women is so important, and must continue, but something that is continually lacking, is the focus on men. When it comes to violence against women, where is the research about men? A commonly shared statistic is that 1 in 3 women worldwide is sexually assaulted. Guess what statistic isn’t commonly shared? How many men sexually assault women.
Most research is generally survivor focused. I am not criticizing the existence or importance of this research, but merely commenting on the huge gap of research on the other side. We need the full picture to create full solutions. Without using language and data to understand perpetrators and aggressors, the onus of problem-solving also rests on the survivors.
Many countries and communities sprang into action to implement creative interventions for survivors of abuse during lockdowns. Aljazeera reported on a variety of these, such as secret codes in pharmacies; budget allocations to shelters and specialist police units; online applications for protection orders; prioritizing complaints of child abuse in the court systems; emergency warning systems in grocery stores; funding hotel rooms for victims who need to escape violent homes; and pop-up counseling centers. These are critically important, vital interventions, but only one part of the work that is needed. They are solutions that only work after the fact, after the abuse, after the rape, after the victim is already a survivor.
The writer of this article asks, “the question, of course, is why governments could not do this before the virus.” Again, a valid question. But it wasn’t the question that popped into my head. My question was, where are the interventions for abusers? Where are the interventions that address abuse, assault, rape, and oppression before it begins? Where are the interventions that go into effect before the opening kick of the fútbol game to prevent 150 more women from becoming statistics, from becoming survivors? Because not all women survive. And not one more femicide is acceptable.
We need these creative interventions to support and heal survivors, these bandaids to stop bleeding wounds. But we must ask why the wounds are being inflicted and how to stop that behavior before it begins. We have to address that the toxicity of white supremacist patriarchy is unhealthy for all of us, all individuals and our societies. There are scatterings of interventions around the world, classes and courses and groups for men to create healthier expressions of masculinity. There is that Gillette razor commercial that addressed bullying and the handful of actors who speak up for their female counterparts to receive as many millions in payment as they do. There is Obama who calls himself a feminist. And articles by men for men about how to be decent men.
Are these the right types of interventions? Are they cross-culturally effective and appropriate? Do we start by having our sons wash the dishes and letting our daughters learn to mow the yard?
I won’t argue that any of these interventions are wrong, just that they are all small solutions that address parts of the problem, and they each have value in some way. They will evolve as our societies evolve and as our research improves. In addition to courses for men about masculinity and programs for women’s empowerment, I argue that we all need to go inward, as individuals, and examine the ways in which we have been agents to the continued culture of patriarchy. We are all conditioned culturally by patriarchy and we all have the responsibility to decondition ourselves, to unlearn the harmful behaviors and implicit biases we have learned.
Life starts to return to some kind of normal. We tiptoe, masked and distanced from our homes, gradually reentering public spaces, where for so long (thousands of years) we, as women, have been denied access, and now what? We leave our homes and we are safe? Safer than inside? Does it depend on what we wear? What streets we choose? Are we safe? Where. Where are we safe? Better, when. When will we be safe?
The onus of finding solutions to IPV should not fall to women, but neither can we wait around for men to do it. The solutions to all of our global and societal problems must look outward and inward. We are all individuals, and we are each complexly connected to the collective and we all must be responsible. I encourage that as women make our way back into public spaces, we take up as much space as possible. Claim our spaces. Do not shrink to fit patriarchy anymore. And at the same time, we, all people, commit to tuning into our internal spaces and reflecting on how we participate in the system of patriarchy. I encourage us all to commit to making daily choices to undo and unlearn the toxic behaviors and beliefs of patriarchy and firmly and lovingly challenge others to do the same. Then we take our personal reflections and growth into our communities and use them to examine our existing interventions and intersectional needs.