A new Covid-19 crisis: Domestic Violence

Though the movement control order (MCO) is to restrict the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, it may be making domestic abuse more frequent and more severe.

Statistics shows that domestic abuse intensified as many at-risk women and children find themselves ‘locked’ in with the perpetrators since the MCO was enforced to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic. For many perpetrators, it is an opportunity to take advantage of the situation created by the unfortunate event.

According to Marianne Hester, a Bristol University sociologist who studies abusive relationships, said there’s every reason to believe that the restrictions imposed would have such an effect. Domestic violence goes up whenever families spend more time together, such as the Christmas and summer vacations.

Now, with families in lockdown, hotlines are lighting up with abuse reports, leaving governments trying to address the crisis.

In response to this, Mercy Malaysia and the Ministry of Health (MOH) Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre (CPRC) have set up a national Covid-19 support hotline which is linked to the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) domestic violence hotline.

The organisation said that the joint hotline between the ministry and NGOs was an important step as the Covid-19 psychosocial support hotline would enable it to reach more survivors of abuse, who were at greater risk during the MCO.

WAO said in a statement, that once support line is connected, they will then provide advice on options for domestic violence survivors, and if needed, to help individuals seek police protection.

Currently, it has 14 active crises support officers who are hotline operators, as well as staff on standby, and this complements the 19 psychosocial volunteers from Mercy Malaysia and 10 counsellors from the Health Ministry.

In order to further strengthen the response to domestic violence during this period, WAO reiterated the six urgent actions the government should take:

  • Issue clear SOPs for responding to domestic violence during the MCO
  • Ensure survivors can obtain Interim Protection Orders (IPOs) and Emergency Protection Orders (EPOs)
  • Publicise support pathways for survivors
  • Improve the availability of temporary shelters, make them an essential service
  • Ensure financial aid reaches domestic violence survivors
  • Allocate ample resources to ensure an effective emergency response

In the first half of April, WAO received 264 calls and WhatsApp inquiries, a 111.2 percent increase over 125 WhatsApp inquiries in 14 days in February.

Abuse survivors can contact the 24-hour WAO Hotline at 03 7956 3488 or through WhatsApp at 018 9888 058 (24 hours) or call the MERCY Malaysia-MoH Covid-19 psychosocial support hotline at 03 2935 9935 (8am -5pm daily).

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