THE islandwide nightly curfew and stay-at-home measures may have managed to slow the transmission of COVID-19 and even reduce incidences of street violence at night, but it is anticipated that they may be having the opposite effect in homes where domestic and intimate partner violence occur.
Head of the Jamaica Constabulary Force's Corporate Communications Unit, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Stephanie Lindsay, confirmed that while an overall assessment of cases has not yet been done since the COVID-19 outbreak, there have been a number of reports of violence in the home.
“If people never used to get along before COVID, and they are now forced to spend time together because of the restrictions, then the possibility exists that those problems will still be there, and in some instances they can escalate,” SSP Lindsay told All Woman last week.
“With the curfew orders you are required to stay at home, so when there is a conflict you can't just jump in the car and go 'drive it out' or get out and take a walk down the street.”
She highlighted that financial challenges may also lead to an increase in household conflicts that have the potential to become violent.
“There are people who used to have an income, whether formal or informal, and because of COVID a lot of that may have been cut back, and when people don't have money and are not comfortable then they tend to have elevated stress,” she explained. “With stress comes anger and frustration which may be taken out on the spouses or children.”
Lindsay recommends taking these steps if your partner is abusive, or you fear you may be in danger of being abused because of increased tension in the home:
Know the emergency numbers
“Have the telephone number for your nearest police station, and even try to know who is in charge of that station so that in the event that something should happen you have a number to call. If you have neither of those you can call 119 and make a report and they will send the local police,” she said.
Keep a network of mediators
Lindsay suggested that in addition to the police, you try to have a network of family and friends, including someone you know the aggressor will listen to, so in the event that he/she becomes abusive you have someone who can intervene and mediate on your behalf.
Try to de-escalate issues from early
“Because you are confined in a space, it is very important that you practise some conflict management skills,” she pointed out. “Try as much as possible to avoid escalating whatever may trigger a dispute, especially one that is likely to end up being physical. Words can hurt, but you don't always have to respond.”
Wait for help
“We don't recommend that you get out of your house in the middle of the night and try to head anywhere because we also have to think about safety. You don't want to try to get out of one dangerous situation and put yourself in another one,” she warned. She said unless you are being attacked or you think your life is in immediate danger, then you should wait until the police arrive.
Lindsay suggested that if you knew before COVID that you can't exist in the same space around the clock, then you should make arrangements with a friend or family member to stay with them for the time being. “It's easier said than done especially when there are children involved,” she acknowledged.
“You may have been living in the same space, but because you both worked outside of the home you could share space, but would not have to be in each other's presence often. Now you might have to stay somewhere else until things get back to normal.”
“Sometimes the victim may not want to report the abuse, perhaps because the abuser is the sole provider and they feel like they are obligated to protect them,” she reckoned. “But every incident must be reported because it is through the report that help will come. You can't get any help from the police or any other agency unless a report is made.”
Lindsay also noted that relatives or neighbours can make a report on behalf of the victim if the victim refuses to do so.
She reassured that the police have been trained and sensitised on the nature of domestic disputes, and though victims may feel afraid to seek help, you may just save your own life.
“Our police officers are already briefed on the possibility of increased cases of reports of domestic violence and other family violence at this time, and that the response must be rapid,” she stressed.