Pandemic Crisis: Domestic Violence in Malaysia
19th July 2021
Domestic violence is defined as “a pattern of violence, abuse, or intimidation used to control or maintain power over a partner who is or has been in an intimate relationship”. It occurs in a myriad of forms such as physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, social, and financial abuse . Domestic violence is not a new social phenomenon. Indeed, it is a global issue that can happen anywhere at any given time.
Undeniably, the COVID-19 outbreak is also a major contributor to the recent increase in domestic violence cases the world over where almost a quarter of the world’s population has been under movement restriction or lockdown. For instance, the United Kingdom (UK), recorded a 32 per cent increase in complaints on domestic violence over this period; while in France the highest reported cases was in Paris, at 36 per cent .
In Malaysia, there has also been an increase in the cases of domestic violence reported in the media since the introduction of the Movement Control Order (MCO). The Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) stated that it had received 1,442 calls via hotline, 1,496 complaints through the WhatsApp application and short messaging system (SMS) relating to domestic violence in 2020 compared to only 579 calls and 816 complaints in 2019 ; an increase of 284 per cent and 83.4 per cent respectively. Among the possible reasons for the rise include; the likelihood of conflict increases as both perpetrators and victims spend more time together while other factors encompass financial difficulties and unconducive living conditions .
Many believe that this significant increase in the number of complaints received is just the tip of the iceberg and reported only because the victims were trapped with their abusers without respite throughout the MCO. But more sinister, it may also indicate that this issue is still not taken seriously by both society and the authorities; resulting in many cases going unreported despite the many platforms that have been put in place to allow victims to file complaints.
Or, is it because the victims did not come forward because they feel embarrassed? Or they are afraid they may not be believed? Or they don’t want to bring shame to the family? Or they are ignorant of the many avenues available for them to seek help? For the many non-working victims, a marital break-up is a consequence many will not bear especially if they have children and also, circumstances under the MCO make it even more unthinkable to get out there and survive on one’s own with children. Or simply because they worry, they may be stigmatised.
What therefore can the immediate community or close family members do in addressing this issue? And what help and action can the authorities, both government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) offer in defending, protecting, assisting, and supporting these victims? Perhaps, a more concerted effort is needed to explain and create greater awareness to convince victims to come forward and tell their stories, and to make society stop remaining silent which indirectly protects the perpetrators.