New Delhi: It’s been nearly eight months now and COVID-19 coronavirus has evolved into a major public health crisis. That’s just one side of the pandemic though. Continued isolation resulting from COVID-19 induced lockdown measures have also led to increased cases of anxiety, depression, anger, frustration, and PTSD for some people. Meanwhile, lack of coping opportunities, access to good healthcare and social support, and non-existing relaxation activities may also have contributed to an increase in sexual and gender-based violence.
COVID-19 and Sexual Violence: What we don’t talk about
COVID-19 coronavirus and extended lockdown situation have brought about numerous sexual and behavioural changes in people. Increased psychological suffering and quarantine have led some to consume large amounts of pornography as ‘sexualized surviving conduct’. With increased pornographic consumption, it has been reported that domestic and sexual violence has also shot up, especially in the hotspot regions like the US, Brazil and India.
Some of the biggest agents that are causing stress and are responsible for the interpersonal violence are unemployment, work and the rearrangement of family roles. These triggers have been commonly associated with negative thoughts and conduct. Experts believe that lockdown is nurturing tension and stress – created by worries related to safety, well-being and money. And, it is not farfetched to imagine that women are unreasonably susceptible to personal violence during the contagion and that this has now turned into a new global crisis.
Back in April 2020, UN chief António Guterres had called for measures to address a “horrifying global surge in domestic violence” directed towards women and girls, linked to lockdowns imposed by governments responding to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
However, even before the global spread of the new coronavirus, statistics showed that a third of women around the world experienced some form of violence in their lives. Research by the World Health Organization (WHO), details disturbing impacts of violence on women’s physical, sexual, reproductive and mental health: women who experience physical or sexual abuse are twice as likely to have an abortion, and the experience nearly doubles their likelihood of falling into depression. In some regions, they are 1.5 times more likely to acquire HIV, and evidence exists that sexually assaulted women are 2.3 times more likely to have alcohol disorders. 87,000 women were intentionally killed in 2017, and more than half were killed by intimate partners or family members. Shockingly, violence against women is as serious a cause of death and incapacity among women of reproductive age as cancer, and a greater cause of ill-health than traffic accidents and malaria combined.
COVID19 pandemic has aggravated pre-existing gender discriminations and power pyramids. Women and girls are now isolated more than ever before from the people and resources that can help them, and they have few opportunities to distance themselves from their abusers. According to a UN report, Malaysia, for example, has seen the number of calls to helplines double, compared with the same month last year; in China, they have tripled; and in Australia, search engines such as Google are seeing the highest magnitude of searches for domestic violence help in the past five years.
Promote ‘positive sexual behaviour’ message
One must always remember – “Sex is a normal part of life and should always be with the consent of all parties.”
To mitigate the detrimental consequences of self-isolation, governments must ensure the protection of women and girls right from the beginning of an epidemic. All protective services for women and girls must be classified as “essential” during any disaster and organisations already focused on sexual and gender-based violence must be given appropriate tools and resources to continue supporting women and girls during the pandemic.
COVID-19 coronavirus is still new and doctors and psychologists are learning new things about its effect on the human body every day. There is still lots to learn about how COVID-19 affects different genders in terms of psychosocial, biological and behavioural aspects of their lives. It is will be easier for everyone if we join hands to keep ourselves safe and reach out to the helpless individuals.