Indonesia must strengthen its anti-domestic-violence services during the coronavirus crisis
Widespread restriction of mobility has been required to deal with the spread of COVID-19, including stay at home orders, but not all homes are safe, Niken Kusumawardhani writes.
The chance to be able to stay at home in safety during lockdown is truly a privilege. The fact is, under quarantines women carry the burden of caregiving, both for children and the elderly, and face a higher risk of unintended pregnancies and domestic violence. Without well-established emergency services and shelter systems, women locked up with abusive husbands are becoming unwitting victims of the pandemic.
COVID-19 has brought a lot of uncertainty, and has placed limits on choices that people can make. During this time, perpetrators can be triggered to try and regain sense of control and power over their lives, and this can manifest itself in abuse.
A combination of distress, both economic, from lost work or higher costs, and emotional, from increased isolation and confinement, the risk of domestic violence has risen considerably during the pandemic crisis.
Over the years, domestic violence has been the most prevalent type of violence against women in Indonesia, and a recent report shows that during the first month of limited mobility in Jakarta, numbers of reported cases of domestic violence, rape, and sexual assaults have dramatically increased compared to the usual figures.
The cultural taboo against revealing marital problems has become the main barrier in Indonesia for filing reports of violence, causing domestic violence to be severely underreported. Even among victims who come forward, only a handful report to police. Research has found that one of the main barriers preventing women from reporting to police is unfamiliarity with the procedure.
Another barrier for women is financial dependence. There are fears that reporting abuse may land their husband in jail, and the victim will be left with limited resources to survive. This situation will only get worse as the pandemic progresses, as some women who become unable to work will be even more financially dependent on men, and find it even more difficult to leave if their home becomes a toxic environment.
Failure to deliver services for domestic violence survivors during the pandemic may increase the severity of violence cases, and eventually put more burden on the already-strained national health system. As large-scale social restrictions have been imposed in several major cities in Indonesia, it is imperative that governments categorise services for domestic violence victims as essential.
The availability of emergency safe houses and psychological services that are easily accessible by women impacted by domestic violence must be considered a priority for Indonesian policymakers during the coronavirus crisis.
The government must also allocate extra spending to deal with the domestic violence wave that will accompany the rest of the crisis. Unfortunately, none of the 405 trillion rupiah spending for the COVID-19 pandemic is dedicated to anti-domestic violence initiatives.
Before the pandemic, safe houses were only available in some districts, with varying quality and capacity. As construction of new safe houses will take a long time, transforming hotels into a potential safe house for survivors fleeing domestic violence is a more feasible option for the duration of the pandemic.
The government could also use the extra spending to pay for accommodation, food, and other essential needs for women who are forced to leave their homes due to domestic violence.
Recently, the Indonesian government launched a hotline service to connect psychologists with people who need mental health support during the pandemic, including those impacted by domestic violence. This is a great step, but it will still be difficult for victims to call the number while locked up at home with their abusers.
Features such as online chat services, texting, or the usage of secret code words during a call to discreetly seek help would make it easier for victims to reach out, and simple to implement. In addition to psychologists, the hotline service should also be backed up by a team of police and health workers who are well-trained in responding to domestic violence. Formation of this team may require additional economic resources but is surely important enough to be funded using the extra spending set aside for the pandemic.
Initiatives at the grassroots level can help strengthen existing anti-domestic violence measures during the coronavirus crisis. Steps taken by civil society groups, rather than government, to help survivors of domestic violence have started to flourish, especially in Greater Jakarta, the epicenter of the pandemic in the country.
As some villages already implement their own measures to ensure distancing and caring for infected neighbours, they should also incorporate anti-domestic violence initiatives into their activism in the community.
For example, village volunteers and neighbourhood watch members could be educated, empowered to detect signs of violence, and then maintain regular communication with the neighbours. Village chiefs and community leaders should also increase their readiness in providing safe houses and receiving report from survivors.
More than just a global health issue, the COVID-19 pandemic has created serious disruption for so many aspects of everyday life. In the middle of high death tolls from the disease itself, it is easy to overlook the scale of what COVID-19 is doing to those who do not contract it.
Policies designed to limit mobility in the pandemic should not come at the expense of the safety of women, and Indonesia must use this hard time as an opportunity to strengthen its domestic violence services. A failure to provide comprehensive domestic violence services will create greater loss for Indonesia, both to its health care system, and society, and amount to an act negligence toward its own people.
If you or someone you know are experiencing domestic violence in Indonesia and require support, you can contact P2TP2A or Unit Pelayanan Perempuan dan Anak (PPA) Polda for help. In Australia, you can find resources to get support here or dial 1800 RESPECT.