We Need To Be More Prepared To Help The Survivors Of Domestic Violence

Please know that you are never alone, and you deserve help!

Calls to Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) domestic violence telephone and messaging services increased 3.4 times in May compared to pre-MCO levels. Reports of domestic violence to WAO have risen steadily since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the implementation of the MCO.

we need to be more prepared to help the survivors of domestic violencePhoto via The Star

“The sharp rise in domestic violence that we’ve witnessed during the MCO period is extremely concerning,” said WAO Executive Director, Sumitra Visvanathan. “When survivors are put into a situation of isolation with their abusers, this creates circumstances where it is even easier for the abuser to exert control physically, emotionally, and socially.”

Initially, a 1.4 times increase in WAO hotline calls and WhatsApp messaging inquiries from February to March 2020 was reported, when the MCO went into effect.

Subsequently, WAO observed a much greater spike, compared to the 250 inquiries WAO received in February, 898 inquiries in April, and 848 inquiries in May, and respective increases of 3.6 and 3.4 from February. 

“The MCO was necessary to control COVID-19, but the government must also recognise that for many women and children home is not a safe haven - but actually quite the opposite,” added Sumitra. 

There has been many positive approach by the government towards ensuring services are available for domestic violence survivors, including through public service announcements (PSAs) by the National Security Council, reminding survivors that they can call Talian Kasih hotline for help, and linking the Ministry of Health’s Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre with WAO’s Hotline.

However, there have been gaps and uncertainty in the government’s response to domestic violence, especially in the first month of the MCO.

This includes: 

  1. Some enforcement officers are unclear whether they should investigate domestic violence cases

  2. The lack of clarity on how to obtain interim protection orders when courts are closed

  3. Lack of direction to survivors and public on services available and whether survivors could exit their homes

  4. Inadequate availability of temporary shelters

  5. Financial aid not adequately targeted for survivors, and

  6. Lack of (or diversion of) resources away from domestic violence services

Some of these issues, like points 1,2, and 3, had subsequently been addressed but only a few weeks after the MCO started. Some still remain unsolved.

“This pandemic has presented us significant learnings,” said Sumitra. “We must use the knowledge gained during the first MCO period to ensure that we are better prepared for future emergencies, and that survivors of domestic violence are not falling through the cracks as we work to contain the health and economic fallouts from COVID-19.”

Although the current MCO will come to an end, the effects of COVID-19 and the MCO will linger, and we may face similar crises in the future. The government must be better prepared to respond to domestic violence and ensure the critical protection needs of survivors are met.

We hope that everyone is keeping themselves safe from harm. If you are, or know someone who isn’t safe at home, do reach out to the Women’s Aid Organisation, and they will help you! 

Take care and stay safe! 

By: Aishah Akashah Ahadiat