Communities should step up to help domestic violence survivors

Photograph: Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas/Pexels

Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) urges the public to be vigilant and report any cases of domestic violence even under the movement control order.

Although staying at home is a necessary and unavoidable measure to ensure societal safety and wellbeing in the face of the coronavirus, for many domestic violence survivors, the ‘safe haven’ of home simply does not exist. During this time, it is critical for communities to step up to help individuals at risk.

Domestic violence is about maintaining power and control, and in the uncertain and unprecedented times the world is currently facing, this desire to exert power and control may be aggravated by isolation and concerns over health and finances.

Leaving an abusive situation is difficult enough during ordinary times, with many survivors not having the resources or social network to be able to support themselves and their children – often, this financial and social dependence is itself part of the pattern of domestic violence – but leaving becomes far harder during a pandemic.

With the current restricted movement order in Malaysia, even survivors who are typically able to maintain some level of independence and separation from their abuser are facing increased danger from close proximity and economic uncertainty.

For those domestic violence survivors who work in the informal sector or for whom continuing to work from home is not an option, they may not only have lost their physical respite from their abuser, but they may have also rapidly become financially dependent on them.

For those survivors who had already put in place a plan to leave, this may have been derailed by the coronavirus, while others, including children and the elderly, may have become even more vulnerable.

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During these dark times, there are still many resources in place to help domestic violence survivors, from government shelters and the 24-hour Talian Kasih hotline (15999), to WAO’s own telephone hotline (03 7956 3488) and TINA SMS/Whatsapp services (018 988 8058). Survivors in immediate need of help can also go to the police station to file a report and get assistance to retrieve their belongings.

Now more than ever though, in this time of social distancing and self-isolation, communities must not turn a blind eye to those in need. Whether by remaining vigilant and passing information about critical resources to a friend we suspect is being abused, agreeing on a plan or visual signal to help a neighbour escape if the violence escalates, or simply calling or texting to check in on someone without a large social network to let them know they are not alone, there is a lot each of us can do even from our own homes to help ensure the safety of domestic violence survivors in their homes.

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