At the start of the pandemic, everyone had just been preoccupied with surviving, and a large number of issues we normally would have prioritized had been pushed to the backburner.
One issue that remains largely ignored is domestic violence. Named the “shadow pandemic” by the United Nations, violence against women has intensified during the COVID-19 crisis as a result of lockdowns that had trapped these victim-survivors with their abusers. We interviewed Lyka Mae Lucena, a social worker, certified women and children protection specialist, and volunteer at Lunas Collective, about how this pandemic served as the perfect breeding ground for domestic violence.
YOUNG STAR: Was there a rise in reported domestic violence cases during the pandemic?
LYKA MAE LUCENA: Yes, there was, but not in the Philippines. We’ve seen it in European countries and in China where the pandemic was first seen, but in this country, we actually saw a decrease in domestic violence reports to the Philippine National Police.
Do these low numbers mean that the actual cases went down?
The reports went down, but this doesn't mean that the number of incidents actually decreased. Because of the lockdown, those who experience abuse at home feel too discouraged to report to the authorities. They are more isolated, mas binabantayan sila ng mga abusers sa bahay. The usual mechanisms for reporting these cases were also not working the same way: the barangays, the police and even the local social welfare offices were very busy with the pandemic. The victim-survivors couldn't even go to the hospitals because they were scared of getting the virus.
Those who may be experiencing abuse for the first time might struggle with realizing what is happening to them. What are some early signs of abuse?
We have different types of domestic abuse. With physical abuse, it’s easier to identify, yung mga pabirong suntok or pagsagi that becomes hurtful and repetitive can be a red flag.
One way to know if you’re being isolated by your partner is if they tell you not to talk to a certain person or go out with your friends and family members. If there are a lot of them that they are trying to cut off from you, then that is a very big sign of abuse.
Emotional or psychological abuse is a little harder to identify. One thing you can look out for is if your autonomy is being taken away from you, your ability to decide for yourself or do the things you want to do. Recognize if you have less power in the relationship, in the decision-making in the household. One way to know if you’re being isolated by your partner is if they tell you not to talk to a certain person or go out with your friends and family members. If there are a lot of them that they are trying to cut off from you, then that is a very big sign of abuse.
For financial and economical abuse, you feel like you are very restricted with money. Kahit five pesos pa lang, kailangan ipaalam or hingin from your partner. There’s also the sexual violence aspect to it, like when you say no to sex but still they force you to have intercourse or guilt trip you into having sex with them.
What can those experiencing this do?
When it comes to reporting abuse, it’s difficult. For the victim-survivors themselves, they tend to downplay the gravity of the situation. A very important step is to recognize that you are experiencing it. Reflect if these things you are hearing from your partner are things you would say to someone that you love, like to your child or a good friend.
What can those who are financially dependent on their abusers do during this pandemic?
You have your own abilities, skills, and strengths. It is not true, no matter how much they tell you, that you are nothing without them. Before knowing them and before living with them, you were able to live by yourself. I cannot emphasize this enough: it's very important to connect to your social support system. If you have been successfully isolated by your abuser, you can start reconnecting with your family and friends little by little. If you feel awkward because it’s been so long since you’ve reached out or spoken with them, that’s okay.
What are some hotlines or resources they can reach out to?
Lunas Collective is a feminist organization that provides free and confidential services to people who have reproductive health concerns and experience gender-based violence. We provide basic psychosocial support to people who message us. Responders will talk to victim-survivors and provide a safe space where they can talk about their experiences without being judged. We also give them information on local authorities if they want to report and have legal volunteers who can give them advice or legal counseling if they want to talk about filing cases.
If someone is concerned about a friend or a relative experiencing abuse, how can they help?
A red flag is isolation. If your friend suddenly stops reaching out or the partner tries to break your friendship. Another thing is noticing that some things about your friend have changed. The way they dress or even make up. You can also try to observe their usual mood and see if their outlook changed, especially for the worse.
When you talk to them, they speak ill of themselves or see themselves in a more negative light. If you yourself feel uncomfortable with their partner because of how they interact, then that can also be something you can look into. Bruises and cuts are obvious signs, too. Lastly, if you notice that they prioritize their partner more than themselves — that person’s needs over their own needs — to an unhealthy level.
What can we do as friends? First, do not judge this person, don't blame them for their situation. Everyone just wants to be loved and cared for, even your friends who are experiencing abuse. That's probably also the reason why they aren't leaving the relationship. They still believe that their partners will change or go back to the loving person that they once knew when they were in the ligawan stage. The only people who should be blamed or held accountable are the abusers.
It’s also helpful that we understand that not everyone wants to report. Let’s not force them into doing it. It will also be really helpful to connect them to organizations that can help them. Lastly, keep your doors open. These victim-survivors need your help and maybe they don't want it now or recognize it now, but in the future they might. Let’s not give up on these friends and family members.
Photo Art by Lia Candelario