COVID-19 sparks a pandemic of domestic violence
by Steve Suwannarat

As complaints rise, crisis centres are overwhelmed. Because anti-COVID-19 measures discourage overnight stay at shelters, victims are often forced to return to abusive homes.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) – Among the countries of Southeast Asia, Malaysia is experiencing a particularly serious "pandemic of domestic violence", compounded and aggravated by COVID-19.

Data from last year show a 57 per cent increase in reported cases; but the worsening pandemic situation and its economic consequences have made matters worse.

Hospital crisis centres handling victims of sexual and family violence are overwhelmed; so people at risk are not followed, cases are not reported, and culprits are not punished.

Many have called for action to counter this trend; one of them is Charlene Murray, director of Women's Aid Organisation, a Malaysian NGO that provides shelter, counselling and material support to abused women and children.

The problem is not only inadequate support, but also the lack of alternatives to going back to abusive situations.

“Unless someone comes in with injuries, most hospitals only provide basic treatment for OSCC[*] patients,” Murray explained. Hence, they “do not encourage them to stay overnight due to the risk of exposure to COVID-19,” and this puts women to additional risks upon returning home.

As unemployment and poverty get worse, and people are limited in what they can do or where they can go, tensions rise, limiting women’s roles, income and opportunities.

Before the pandemic, Malaysian women already spent 64 per cent more time on domestic chores than men, on average three times more than their partners. Now the situation has further deteriorated.

For their part, law enforcement agencies have rejected accusations that they are not doing enough against domestic violence during the lockdown because of understaffing as they devote more human resources to pandemic containment measures.

However, several districts have admitted that they only have one dedicated official assigned to such cases.

[*] One-stop crisis centres.