Combating Intimate Terrorism

The world certainly is not a stranger to the acts of domestic violence. According to the World Health Organisation 1/3rd women across the globe who have been in a relationship have been subjected to some kind of physical or sexual violence by their intimate partners[1].  Research proves that in crises, there has always been an increase in domestic abuse. With the world exemplifying self-isolation as the best course of action to counter this pandemic, it comes as no surprise that partners living in abusive relationships having to self-isolate has resulted in a rise of new and pre-existing abuse. The difference between the health crisis and the one behind closed curtains, is that there can never be a vaccine formulated to counter the latter. Isolation has reduced the possibility of escape for victims of this form of violence. The causes of domestic abuse can range from economic instabilities, mental stress to the age-old systemic patriarchy. It is very evident that the recent surge in this form of violence can be attributed to self-isolation, but what can be done to curb this? What help can be given to the victims of this ghastly form of violence?

When the lock-down was first imposed in the Hubei Province in China, the origin of the patient zeroes, domestic violence cases had tripled during the lockdown[2] . Cases had risen from 47 to 162 within the span of 1 year. To further highlight the severity of the situation, it was reported that a woman subjected to intimate partner abuse living in the Anhui province of China, had contacted the police, however, the result was only futile[3]. The police had only documented the abuse with no action taken against the abuser. When she filed for a divorce, she could not escape through that route either as the outbreak had resulted in a shut-down of the courts of law too. Brazil witnessed an almost 50% surge in cases of domestic violence. The world recorded a rise in the cases of domestic violence in countries such as Spain, the UK, Italy, USA, and many other countries.

In Spain where the lock-down rules are so austere, it was reported that intimate-partner violence had increased by over 47%[4]. To make matters worse, in the mid of march during the initial stages of the lockdown itself, it had come to light that a woman had been murdered by her husband in front of her children[5]. In Italy, there were initially calls to the nation’s helpline number, but later this dropped, and victims were communicating through desperate text messages instead.

In India, the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) documented a shocking rise in intimate partner violence. The report released by NALSA has recorded a total of  144 cases of domestic violence were reported in Uttarakhand. From Haryana, the number of cases was 79 and a total of 69 cases surfaced from Delhi.  The highest number of cases was recorded in Uttarakhand[6]. Recently several High Courts have directed their respective state governments to make the necessary arrangements to curb this form of violence. In a plea filed before the Delhi High Court, by an NGO called All India Council of Human Rights, Liberties and Social Justice (AICHLS) sought measures to curb domestic violence and protect the victims during the coronavirus lockdown[7]. The Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Maninder Acharya informed the court that the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India, has issued an order taking cognizance of the spike in domestic violence cases on account of lockdown. The Ministry has noticed that a quick response mechanism is required due to prevailing circumstances. The ASG stated that “Accordingly, the Ministry has issued certain directions to the concerned District Magistrates to make suitable duty roster for the concerned officers so that they can provide essential services to the affected victims of domestic violence,”

In Tamil Nadu, the ministry, upon hearing a writ petition filed before the Madras High Court, this issue was recognised, and steps were taken to curb this violence[8].  More than 100 counsellors have been temporarily designated as protection officers in order to resolve these issues. Contact details of protection officers and one-stop centres at every district have been made publicly available. Transport arrangements have been made for the protection officers to transport women in distress to safe shelters. In Uttar Pradesh, the police have launched special hotlines with the tagline “Suppress corona, not your voice”[9], in order to deter the violence against women.

It is of essence that violence against women should not be taken casually. This type of violence often if not always leads to several complications concerning the abused partner’s mental and physical health. According to the World Health Organisation children witnessing intimate partner violence of has a dire impact on their lives. Children who grow up in families where there is violence may suffer a range of behavioural and emotional disturbances. These can also be associated with perpetrating or experiencing violence later in life. Intimate partner violence has also been associated with higher rates of infant and child mortality and morbidity.

Undeniably the state governments such as that of Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have taken steps to limit the abuse, What more can be done? What better ways exist to combat this “Intimate Terrorism”? some responses to these questions would be –

  • Domestic violence services should be classified as “essential” and support workers should be classified as “key” workers. Governments and policymakers must include essential services to address violence against women in preparedness and response plans for COVID-19, resource them, and identify ways to make them accessible in the context of social distancing measures[10].
  •  simple ways to contact and alert the police of the need for urgent help, such as text messages or online chats, and the use of code words with doctors or pharmacists[11].
  • Women who are experiencing violence may find it helpful to reach out to supportive family and friends, seek support from a hotline, or seek out local services for survivors. They may also find it useful to have a safety plan in case the violence escalates. This includes having a neighbour, friend, or relative or shelter identified to go to in the event they need to leave the house immediately for safety.

Further, NALSA has also provided a manual on how to address the various issues victims of abuse face and what actions can be taken by them during the situation of the pandemic. Measures have been taken to protect women’s rights, even during the lockdown, the duty magistrate remains present in the court. An application under the Domestic Violence Act can be filed for protection orders and other appropriate orders before the Duty Magistrate. Complaints can be filed on the grounds of sexual, emotional, and physical abuse. the Protection Officer or the nearest District Legal Services Authority can be contacted for assistance. In the event that the husband or his family members violate the order passed by the magistrate they will be liable for punishment under section 31 of the Domestic Violence Act. The matter can be brought before the Duty Magistrate even during the lockdown period[12].

Domestic abuse is certainly not something new to the world but rather an age-old predicament. This crime is unarguably appalling in nature, which often leads to pitiful and pathetic consequences, but one should acknowledge that this obstacle cannot cease to exist overnight. This form of violence can be limited, and only then eventually eliminated. No doubt that there exist courses of action that can be taken and have been taken to curtail this increase in domestic violence during this public health crisis, but what the society lacks, not just on the national platform but also globally is awareness. There prevails a lack of awareness on behalf of both the abuser and the victim of the abuse. on the side of the abuser there lacks a cognizance of equality, the abuser often feels that indulging in domestic violence is a way to exert dominance over the victim. As for the victim of abuse, there exists a lack of awareness of seeking help.

Most victims throughout the world often are confined in fear of their abusers as well as societal norms. They usually feel that their voices may not be heard, or they may be aggrieved by their abusers even more if they do speak out. To counter this “intimate terrorism”, the measures that have been stated surely work in the short run and some even in the long run. But another aspect to be considered to ensure a curbing of domestic abuse would unequivocally be, awareness. Rather than ostracising those who speak out they should be encouraged. Therefore, it is imperative to combat this issue with the utmost seriousness during this global pandemic and after it too.

[1] Violence against women, World Health Organization (2017), (last visited May 23, 2020).

[2] Sophie Mak, China’s Hidden Epidemic: Domestic Violence – The Diplomat (2020), (last visited May 23, 2020).

[3] Amanda Taub, A New Covid-19 Crisis: Domestic Abuse Rises Worldwide The New York Times (2020), (last visited May 23, 2020).

[4] Nordic Council of Ministers & Unesda, [Ticker] Spain: Spike in domestic violence under lockdown EUobserver (2020), (last visited May 23, 2020).

[5] Emma Graham-Harrison et al., Lockdowns around the world bring rise in domestic violence The Guardian (2020), (last visited May 23, 2020).

[6] Domestic violence cases in India on the rise during lockdown, says report – Times of India, The Times of India (2020), (last visited May 23, 2020).

[7] Prathma Sharma, Govt told to convene meet to address domestic violence during lockdown Livemint (2020), (last visited May 23, 2020).

[8] NewIndianXpress, Effective steps taken to curb domestic violence during lockdown, TN tells Madras HC The New Indian Express (2020), (last visited May 23, 2020).

[9] UP Police Deserves All Praise for Domestic Violence Hotline for Women During COVID-19, News18 (2020), (last visited May 23, 2020).

[10] Q&A: Violence against women during COVID-19, World Health Organization (2020), (last visited May 23, 2020).

[11]Fahmida Hasan, Addressing the rise in domestic violence during lockdown Addressing the rise in domestic violence during lockdown | Inter Press Service (2020), (last visited May 23, 2020).


 Aditi Nemakal from  Tamil Nadu National Law University

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