By Sharese Benjamin
The covid-19 pandemic has stretched and pulled all of us in many ways, from financial to mental issues, you name it. To reduce the transmission of the virus, governments around the world including Jamaica, imposed stay-at-home orders. This measure caused the shutdown of many businesses that were deemed unessential, the switch from face-to-face to online learning and for workers who can, to work-from-home. Though these practices were meant to keep us safe it also gave way to many social issues such as the increase in Violence Against Women and Girls (VAW/G).
VAW/G was already a wide-spread issue in Jamaica but the pandemic has worsened the situation. Victims of abuse have been forced to spend longer hours during the day with their abusers. This increase of abuse during the pandemic has been termed as the Shadow Pandemic.
Intimate Partner Violence (IPV)
Intimate Partner Violence, a form of VAW/G, is abuse that takes place within a romantic relationship.
During an extended period of lockdown in St. Catherine in 2020, an increased number of women have reported cases of abuse from their partners. This was discovered in a report done by CAPRI on the Impact of the Pandemic on Domestic and Community Violence.
While there are increased reports of abuse, there are instances too where in some areas there are women who are not able to report abuse and seek the necessary redress needed. This happens because they are around their abusers more often due to the covid-19 restrictions. There are some instances where though physical violence has lessened, verbal abuse has increased between couples.
There are many children in Jamaica who live in abusive households. These children often use school as a haven away from the abuse. Girls who have been abused by family members or family friends are now more than ever susceptible to abuse. There is concern that though violence may occur at home, there will be less reports made. This is attributed to teachers and guidance counsellors being less likely to detect when their students are being abused.
Report of abuse
There are some instances where women have been turned away in an attempt to report abuse to the police. Unfortunately, there are cases where measures implemented to curtail the spread of covid-19, such as curfew, were used as excuses to dismiss reports of abuse. According to a November 2020 Gleaner article, women have been turned away by police after attempting to report abuse. In one such incident, the victim was told to go home, and call 119 because the curfew was in effect at the time she went to the police station. She complied but was informed by another officer that reports can still be made during curfew hours. It is inconsiderate, that there are officers who would not consider that the victim likely took the first opportunity to get away which was perhaps only possible during curfew hours.
Efforts made to lend support
In February 2020, the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) established a COVID 19 hotline. This inspired the Pan American Health Organisation to collaborate with the MOHW to get volunteers on board to be trained in Gender-Based Violence sensitisation and prevention. To received assistance using this hotline, persons can call 1-888-ONE-LOVE (1 888 663 5683).
More can be done
The availability of hotlines and safe spaces for victims of VAW/G are great initiatives but more must be done to nip the problem in the bud. To fix the issue requires destabilizing abusive behaviour as a norm in society. This can be done through focusing more on conflict resolutions in schools and the proper enforcement of sexual offences laws to name a few.
Violence Against Women and Girls is prevalent in Jamaica. As a society we need to make a collective effort to get rid of it.
Sharese Benjamin is a blogger and is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) degree at the University of the West Indies. She is the General Secretary of the Mona Law Society and one of the outgoing programme coordinators for the UWI Mona Guild Intergenerational Women’s Mentorship Programme. She may be contacted at email@example.com.