File picture: Tracey Adams / African News Agency (ANA)
File picture: Tracey Adams / African News Agency (ANA)

Spike in GBV shows our most vulnerable are even more at risk during lockdown

By Jill Ryan Time of article published May 5, 2020

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Abusers exploit the pandemic to extend their power and control over victims, using the coronavirus as a scare tactic to further isolate victims from their children, family and friends for fear of infecting them.

The abusers use misinformation about the virus or withhold sanitisers to prevent the victim from seeking medical attention.

In South Africa, the saying “to breathe through the wound” indicates a very uncomfortable or difficult predicament.

It aptly describes most citizens’ quarantine sentiment shown on social media sites but also expressed in the recent wave of unrest in Cape Town.

However, the saying takes on an ominous meaning in light of the recent statistics on gender-based violence (GBV) during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Worldwide, countries including France, Argentina, Cyprus, Northern Ireland, Singapore and Kosovo have experienced a 17 to 33% increase in GBV since their lockdown periods, with Tunisia seeing a fivefold increase in GBV.

Since quarantine, Canada, Spain, Germany, the US and the UK have seen increased demand for shelters, with helplines experiencing double their calls in Lebanon and Malaysia, and triple call volumes in China.

In Australia, search engines like Google are seeing the highest amount of searches for GBV assistance in the past five years.

Within the first week of lockdown, the SAPS received 2320 complaints (which are only the reported cases), with only 148 related charges laid.

The statistics represent a 37% increase in the weekly average of South African GBV cases reported last year.

Separate to the SAPS figures, our National Gender-Based Violence Command Centre has received triple the amount of calls and, among our first publicised cases, a 75-year-old woman, brutally raped and strangled by suspects posing as SANDF soldiers.

Emergency crises are known to cause a spike in GBV.

In fact, during Hurricane Katrina there was a 98% increase in physical violence against women, from 2014 to 2016, school closures during the Ebola outbreak revealed spikes in child labour, neglect, sexual abuse and teen pregnancies.

With school closures, restricted public gatherings, and caregivers more preoccupied with seeing to basic needs (such as getting food or looking after sick relatives), children do not partake in supervised play or activities.

This demonstrates that our most vulnerable are at risk during times such as this.

Home-based quarantine, though necessary to reduce Covid-19 transmission, is known to impact individuals’ socio-economic as well as psycho-social well-being.

Feelings of depression, boredom, anxiety and worry are common, yet these are compounded among victims of GBV.

Seeking aid during this time might be challenging due to restricted movement, but we must not feel it is impossible.

The law is not suspended during the lockdown, but it needs to be more responsive and sensitive to cases of GBV.

It is not enough to say that victims must reach out and notify whoever they can, be it a relative or the police (although this is vital!).

First responders need to know how to respond to GBV amid the pandemic, and should connect victims with targeted support services and care, which must be supported and made available during lockdown.

Measures must be put in place to prevent child-family separation and to support children left alone without adequate care due to the hospitalisation or death of a parent or caregiver as a result of the pandemic.

We need to work together as a society, and on every level, to ensure those in need are heard and helped effectively.

If we do not, the plight of victims will be overshadowed by the pandemic - victims who felt overlooked and underserved even before Covid-19 arrived.

If the response is not adequate or effective, GBV organisations might be prophetic in saying, “it will not only be the virus that kills us”.

Dr Jill Ryan is a guest lecturer at the Child and Family Studies Unit, UWC.

* Anyone in need of GBV-related help can contact the National Gender-based Violence Command Centre at 0800428428, or dial the ‘please call me’ option, *120*7867.

* For shelter, or information on shelters and GBV safety planning, see the National Shelter Movement SA, a body representing 78 shelters for abused women and children across the country, on Facebook, or contact NSM members:

* Western Cape: Bernadine Bachar at 0829038739 or Joy Lange at 0719063949.

* Northern Cape: Clair Adriaanse at 0800212321 or Rosaline Bailey at 0738888738.

* Gauteng: Rudo Muhasa at 0836847737 or Zubeda Dangor at 0832899818.

* Free State: Sarah Lekale at 0721447171.

* Mpumalanga: Fisani Mahlangu at 0793109633.

* KwaZulu-Natal: Sabera Timol at 0724463337.

* Eastern Cape: Chrislynn Moonieyan/Masimanyane Shelter at 0812476056.

* North West: Rina van der Berg at 0723486526.

* Dr Jill Ryan is a guest lecturer at the Child and Family Studies Unit, UWC, and an alumnus and senior scientist at Cochrane SA (SA Medical Research Council)

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

Cape Argus


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