Warwick ASEAN Conference

Doomed domesticity: The victim and the voyeur during the COVID’19 crisis

DISCLAIMERS:

  • Views expressed in this article are solely my opinion and may not necessarily represent the entity affiliated. 
  • This article contains sensitive content about rape and sexual abuse. Reader’s discretion is advised. 

A recurring nightmare of mine unfolds where I was living in this unparalleled utopia, dancing among the daisies in the fields. Lo and behold, the paradigm has shifted; the dimension of my current universe is stricken by the tyranny of mankind damned to utter chaos and fear disseminates to wreak havoc on the conscience of people. To speak somewhat cynically, it would be oddly strange if my universe had not been subjected to an onslaught of disaster and corruption and indeed, the emergence of a worldwide pandemic is the cherry on top of the cake. These unfortunate series of events, as my awareness reaches its maxim, when I peer through the gap of my window in the morning: I, along with the rest of the world, are living in this hellish nightmare.  

Come on now, there is no need to discuss sanitation measures, Mr. Johnson already took care of that with his birthday song. Nay, we would be plummeting into depths of banality if we did that here. There is another epidemic to be discussed and to my shock, it hasn’t been talked about enough: domestic violence. While the common saying of ‘home is where the heart is’ increases most of our serotonin levels, it distorts our rationale to believe that this is all history and mankind has offered to us. Truly, humanity has granted us the greatest gifts of technology and medicine, saving billions of lives. Yet, we would be labeled fools if we didn’t believe the devil’s incarnate was just around the corner. We take comfort in the fact that we are safe in our homes, isolated from the vagaries of the world but on another end of the spectrum, victims are living under the watch of the voyeur.

It takes no keen observation to see the rise in stats concerning domestic violence during this MCO (Movement Control Order). The Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) in Malaysia reported having received in the span of 23 days in April, a total of 284 calls and 364 WhatsApp inquiries through their hotline and TINA services. In other ASEAN countries such as Singapore, the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) women’s helpline saw a 33 percent increase in calls related to family violence in February compared to the same period last year, contrary to the national data that shows a decline in cases from 2016 to 2019. 

Source: WAO

On an international level, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported one in three women around the world experience physical or sexual violence. UN Women reported up to 70% of women face physical and/ or sexual violence in their lifetime. Women in urban areas are twice as likely as men to experience violence, particularly in developing countries (e.g. Thailand and other ASEAN countries)

WAO has released some helpful guidelines for domestic abuse victims during this time. Source: WAO

Beyond these numbers exists the evil, egoist, exerting power over another. Particularly during this pandemic, there is this sense of an uncontrollable grasp of power in our situations and the unfortunate corollary depicts abusers trying to gain some semblance by lashing out on the victim. The coronavirus has been predicted to put the world into an economic recession which only exacerbates the situations for victims. A study in the US showed that unemployment and economic hardship in households were positively related to abusive behaviour and it would be hard for the victim to leave abusive relationships too, as that would mean financial independence. While the word ‘independence’ rings a hopeful sound, the harrowing reality is it becomes difficult for victims to keep a secret savings account while being monitored by the abuser and simultaneously prevent the possibility of losing their jobs too. The mounting evidence of the economic impacts of Covid-19 will hit women harder, especially those who work in low-paying, insecure and informal jobs, as demonstrated by the Ebola crisis. Many victims are constrained financially in this manner and to add insult to injury,  the psychological abuse expropriates their moral worth and sparks similarity a scenario played out like this: when a victim considers herself deferential in the presence of her abuser and in dire straits, for instance in this context of financial limitations, she blames herself as the cause of ‘provoking’ her abuser. This is known as the battered woman syndrome.

Source: Freepik

WAO provides the cycle of abuse includes 4 phases: (1) Tension building, (2) Incident, (3) Reconciliation, and (4) Calm. While many may object to the notion that this misrepresents attempts by the woman to leave and seek help, the survivor theory is integrated to ensure that the battered women are active survivors who remain in these situations not due to passivity, but due to the lack of means to escape; they have tried to escape but to no avail.

The vicious mental cycle of a victim.
 Source: Minnesota’s Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs

This cycle of violence didn’t emerge out of anywhere, it slithered and embedded itself in Asian cultures. What the literature has taught (manipulated, frankly) us about the moral compass of a woman is dependent on her portrayal to be demure and obedient in conduct, modest in appearance. Women are already doomed from the onset, as we observe from the systemic son preference through manifestation of sex selective elimination of female foetuses, causing a skewed male-female sex ratio. It is a common notion that the duty of a woman is to bear a child and become financially dependent on a man, perpetuating this ridiculous perception that education is not necessary for them. This desire to control female sexuality is often tied to practices of forced marriage involving a child for dowry; e.g. where an old man with money marries a 12-year old girl. In what rational and moral universe is this practice meant to be ‘acceptable’? This doomed domesticity enrages many and comes with a cost when challenged: we see that from the beating of activists all around the world who participate in these rallies.

I thought I had entered into the 1950s by a time capsule when I woke up one morning to see the faux pas of absurdity published by the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry in Malaysia. Their advice to prevent domestic conflicts at home was to speak like the Japanese cartoon Doraemon, prevent nagging their husbands, and wear makeup for them at home. History has repeated itself once again, by using violence as a tool to enforce patriarchal codes of conduct when a woman violates norms of ‘family honor’. While they’ve apologised for the posters and advice released, this only serves to highlight the deeply rooted anachronism that underlies this ‘progressive’ society which we so lavishly embrace.

Source: New Straits Times

The tip of the iceberg during this difficult time lies in the trusty hands of social media. We put our trust in media influencers to shed light and positivity (this word is rendered zilch and has lost all its meaning) to impressionable youths by spreading messages to boost their confidence and pervade this ‘aura’ of shallow harmony. As the cynic would claim, we make no apologies for our actions because we lacked malicious intent, even if it involves harming an entire population, ridiculing the psychological trauma of millions of individuals around the world. The ‘Mugshot Challenge’ is a trend started in TikTok (social media platform) where influencers put on makeup to make themselves look beaten black and blue in attempts to look ‘hot’ and share it with the rest of the world. We have impressionable youths aimlessly scrolling through the internet and imitating this, unknowingly glamorising domestic violence and yet, the greater tragedy rests in the disturbing fact that these influencers who have been endowed with a big impact, fail to grasp the social implications of their actions. 

With the faint hope in humanity, we can start somewhere, though we have a lot of work cut out for us. We can start by sharing a simple post to generate awareness and or go through the means to meet the monetary needs of organisations who help these women. With the surge of domestic violence cases, the crisis centres and safe houses have been at full capacity. The solution is seen for instance in Indonesia, where Hollaback Jakarta has started pooling resources with other entities to rent and provide temporary rooms for women who require immediate attention, especially if they’ve escaped with their child. We need the government to stop downplaying the severity of the situation and enforce a standardised guideline for domestic violence victims and ways to seek help from there. You, reading this, can help too. 

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