Domestic violence against women in Bahrain has registered a sharp increase last month compared to the previous month, according to a local support group.
However, many more cases could be going unreported as restrictions due to Covid-19 prevent victims from escaping, according to Shamsaha founder-director Mary-Justin Todd.
Bahrain-based Shamsaha – the first and only crisis response programme in the Middle East for women – recorded 129 cases of domestic abuse last month compared to 88 in March.
“There has been a 46 per cent increase in domestic abuse cases from March to April,” Ms Todd told the GDN.
“In March, we had 88 cases while in April it went up to129, which also reflected a 20pc increase in calls to our English hotline.
“The cases feature different nationalities and calls on the English hotline don’t mean they are all foreigners or non-Arabic speakers; even Arabic speakers call on the English hotline as they feel more anonymous there.”
The centre operates two 24-hour helplines, in English (38447588) and Arabic (66710901), which are manned by trained female crisis care advocates.
Texts are also accepted via WhatsApp or SMS, free of charge.
“We are yet to analyse the details of the cases as to how many were received through hospitals or police, but all are domestic abuse cases from within the family and not trafficking or by strangers,” explained Ms Todd.
“The latter categories are anyway low in number, which I expect is the same even now.
“Even otherwise 85pc of sexual assault cases reported are from those known to the victims.”
According to reports, there has been a surge in cases of domestic violence globally due to Covid-19.
In France, the police reported an increase of about 30pc in domestic violence, and in Spain, the emergency number saw an increase of 18pc in just the first two weeks.
The UK’s largest domestic abuse charity, Refuge, has reported a 700pc increase in calls to its helpline in a single day, while a separate helpline for perpetrators of domestic abuse seeking help to change their behaviour received 25pc more calls after the start of the Covid-19 lockdown.
“I see this increase (in Bahrain) as very significant as it matches global reports,” said Ms Todd.
“Calls have increased, showing the incidents of violence have increased, maybe because the perpetrators are spending more time at home now.
“This also means the ease with which victims can reach out for help has reduced, indicating that substantially the prevalence of abuse could be more.
“Hence, though we calculate a 46pc increase, it could actually be double this figure.”
She said a number of reasons can be attributed to this increase.
“People have lost their incomes, there is a high level of stress and anxiety and the escape options for victims have reduced.
“When tensions rise between partners, unlike before, the victims are unable to move away, as in go to work or go out; this means the already abusive relations have become more abusive than normal, as avenues to escape have reduced.”
Shamsaha has been highlighting these issues on its platforms and is also suggesting ways to stay safe during the pandemic.
“We are offering tips and techniques to women who are sheltering themselves with an abusive partner, as to what to do during a crisis situation and to mitigate the violent outcomes,” said Ms Todd.
Last month UN Women executive director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka issued a stark warning that violence against women was expected to increase with more people in isolation.
Describing the threat as a “shadow pandemic”, she had warned that if not addressed “urgently” it will add to the economic impact of the coronavirus.
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