The Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CADV) is urging the authorities to be alert to the reality of an upsurge in domestic and gender-based violence cases in this country, as restrictions to reduce spread of COVID-19 tighten.

In an official statement on the matter, the CADV observes that many victims could find themselves forced into close quarters for protracted periods with their abusers, leaving them even more vulnerable than before, as the stress on the household dynamics ramps up..

The full text of the CADV statement, follows…

What we know about disasters holds true for the new coronavirus (COVID-19) reality. Those who are socially marginalized, discriminated against, and those who live in poverty and inequality will be the severely affected. We know that one in four people in the Caribbean live in poverty and this means that they are likely not to have pipe borne water, may not have stable incomes and live in over-crowded housing. This holds true for Trinidad and Tobago. Yet we tell people to use hand sanitizers, to wash their hands and to exercise social distance protective behaviours that are difficult for them to do. Additionally, women bear the burden of care for children, the sick and the elderly, and men are taught that they should be in control and be the providers and protectors of those they care about. Women who traditionally experience lower levels of employment accompanied by low salaries and wages and men who are now going to experience increased levels of unemployment will all face serious financial challenges. So these factors will all contribute to increasing levels of stress and anxiety, risks of interpersonal conflict and aggression particularly towards those who are usually the targets – women and children.

As the COVID-19 pandemic takes its toll on households, economies and societies, there is evidence that the incidence of domestic violence and sexual exploitation increases. This has already been seen in China where some police stations have received as many as three times more reports of domestic violence in February 2020, than during the same month the previous year.

Based on a 2017 Trinidad and Tobago Women’s Health Survey, typically one in three women in intimate partner relationships have experienced some form of abuse. According to the annual reports of the Children’s Authority of Trinidad and Tobago, thousands of children are physically and sexually assaulted. In the first quarter of 2020, many women have been killed or harmed by persons with whom they had familial connection. Now, women, children and the elderly will face increasing threats to their safety and wellbeing – including mistreatment, violence, and exploitation.

Social distancing, isolation and quarantine are all important interventions coming on stream in Trinidad and Tobago for the prevention of transmission of COVID-19 but are also likely to force people to interact in close confines for extended periods. Those currently experiencing GBV and those who previously had access to support systems or options to escape will likely be at greater risk from perpetrators.

Coalition against Domestic Violence (‘CADV’) is drawing attention to this now, to urge the authorities to be on the alert, to be proactive and be prepared with effective responses. Public education interventions around COVID-19 must raise awareness about the effects of stress on all relationships and promote healthy coping behaviours and referrals to support services. First responders like the police, social services and health care workers must anticipate increased incidence and reporting of domestic violence cases.

They must commit to responding immediately, with protection of the victim as their primary concern. In their work, they must be sensitive to disclosure of gender-based violence (‘GBV’) and collaborate with other governmental services to support GBV survivors, inclusive of emergency accommodation and counselling services. Now is the time for the government in its response to COVID-19 to work closely with CADV, its members, especially the shelters to make sure they have the capacity to support victims and those most affected by domestic violence. We remind the government of its promise to amend the Domestic Violence Act which remains a priority.

Each member of the public can be part of an active response of zero-tolerance to domestic violence in our communities as we learn to negotiate the challenges we will all face as a result of COVID-19. We need to pay attention so that we can help all who are affected. We must provide support to victims of GBV to get to safety and must engage with authorities to ensure that perpetrators are stopped from repeating violent acts. 

Workplaces should adopt the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Commerce Domestic Violence Workplace Policy and create avenues of communication and support especially for employees who may be working from home the principal site of stressors and GBV.

This is an opportunity for families and communities to better support members including the children and elderly who are at greatest risk. With everyone at home parenting strategies must change to support the needs of children for example re home-schooling. Fathers and Mothers must model healthy stress management and relationship skills and Fathers must engage more in sharing care and financial support where possible and ensure that this a standard practice hereafter. We do need to be extremely generous with each other

All of this should reduce household stresses as family members support each other in creating a safe space and meeting the needs of the most vulnerable as we prevent the spread of COVID-19.

We need kindness and we must all carry the stop violence message as an essential part of our response to COVID-19.