Impact of COVID-19: Violence in the Home

*This is the first part of a series of post related to the impact of COVID-19

Like ripples in water, the whole world is experiencing the waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. And with each wave, we are trying to find ways to cope with this “new normal”. Although some of the most well-known pandemicshave come and gone, we continue to miss one pandemic that has been ongoing since the time power and control has existed: gender based violence. It would be a tragedy  not to acknowledge that we actually have two pandemics running parallel to one another, overlapping at the intersections of the most vulnerable. 

Before COVID-19, about 1 in 4 women and nearly 1 in 10 men have experienced sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Also keep in mind that nearly 68% of these cases go unreported, and research shows that in communities of color, there is an even greater likelihood of not disclosing incidents. With COVID-19, these rates have been surging worldwide.

So what do the statistics above mean and what am I really saying when I mention, increased violence in the home?

Violence in the home or abuse is a pattern of behavior that one person uses to gain power and control over the other person. This can be categorized but not limited to as the following: physical, verbal, emotional, psychological, sexual, financial, digital, spiritual, forced pregnancy, constant surveillance, etc… 

While the CDC encourages “social distancing” – keeping space between yourself and other people, outside of your home – what can be seen is that COVID-19 not only exacerbates, but also uncovers how structural violence has been and continues to be a barrier for victims and survivors. Further, for the most marginalized, staying at home may also mean living with the person who harms them, increasing the chances of violence with limited access to resources and community,  that may have been somewhat available pre-COVID. 

What does this mean for Muslim victims and survivors?

“He told me that as long as I stay in a separate room, and pray to Allah (God), then I would be relieving  the sins of spreading this virus because I have been non-stop coughing. He said that I am at fault and I’m not allowed to leave the home.” -Anonymous 

COVID is already uniquely impacting victims and  survivors and we can also see this being further incensed for Muslim victims and survivors as well. 

Here are some ways Muslim victims and survivors can be impacted at this time:

  • Victims and survivors may be experiencing increased surveillance from the person who is harming and further isolating them. 
  • Victims and survivors may not have access to essential items such as disinfectants, hand sanitizers, and masks, and may be receiving misinformation from the person who harms them.
  • Victims and survivors that are immigrants/immersed in immigrant communities may have limited access to the most updated local/national information regarding COVID-19 due to lack of language access, and watching predominantly international news.
  • Victims and survivors unable to access their place of worship which may have been a place of community or a safe haven from experiencing abuse/harm in the home. 
  • Victims and survivors can look like youth and children (under the age of 17) and can experience increased violence while in quarantine; especially if school has been closed for the rest of the year. 
    • Check out this resource for information specific to child abuse/sexual abuse and what you can do. 
    • Note: Please check and follow the rules/protocol regarding reporting child abuse/sexual abuse in your respective state. 
  • Victims and survivors who identify as LGBTQ+ may have loss of contact with community spaces, businesses, and/or members that may have provided support. 
  • Victims and survivors may experience an increase in spiritual abuse.

Spiritual abuse is the misuse of religious doctrine, religious authority and (most of the time) male privilege to gain power and control over an individual. This type of abuse exists within and outside of Muslim communities, and it is important to note that places of worship are sometimes accessed by victims and survivors as places of respite. We also acknowledge the conflicting reality that also exists: many mosques are not typically identified as model institutions when it comes to equity or addressing gender based violence; however, during times of COVID, it is imperative that religious institutions are even more intentional with working closely with direct service and prevention organizations already doing this work and are at the frontlines. The Muslim tradition is rooted in the concepts of justice, upholding the sacred inviolability of people, and commitment to addressing oppression. Gender-based violence in all its forms is antithetical to Islam and God’s commands. 

At HEART, we try to uncover the root of the problem and  move forward collectively to challenge the notion that violence can only end if the victim or survivor takes full responsibility. 

Here are some ways you can support someone:

  • Ask a question and Respond with RAHMA (compassion)
    • With social distancing in effect, many people feel inhibited and no longer are able to check in on their loved ones who may be victims or survivors. This can become jarring especially in Muslim communities where there’s a culture of being tight-knit. 
    • During this time, supporting someone can be as simple as reaching out, asking a question, and responding with RAHMA (compassion). 
    • The act of virtually (phone call, texting, video chats) connecting may reassure victims and survivors that they are not alone despite heightened environments of isolation not limited to COVID. 
  • Create a safety plan
    • You can do this virtually with someone, over the phone, or through a virtual meeting. This can include determining coded language for the victim to communicate when they are in danger and need help.
    • Code(d) language physically can mean different gestures to indicate the levels of safety a victim is currently in. On social media, code(d) language can be guised as asking simple non-invasive questions about topics not related to violence. 
  • Find ways to practice self-care and/or community care 
    • HEART has created a unique self-care manual, Sukoon (which is Urdu for peace, tranquility, and wholeness) to provide an accessible tool to find respite during these uncertain times.  
    • Sign-up for our newsletter to find out when we release a community care toolkit designed for everyone as we navigate times during COVID. 
  • Connect with our Virtual Peer Educators (VPEs)!
    • We know that safety can also look like anonymity, and our Virtual Peer Educators are here to create safe(r)/brave(r) spaces for you to ask for help and to direct you to resources. 
    • This service is confidential as we honor an individuals privacy since talking about any of these issues can be very difficult. 

Ending violence in the homes, and in the community is our amanah (trust). While victims and survivors may avoid infection outside the home during COVID, inside the home becomes an unavoidable danger. We have a responsibility to uphold the highest standards for not only ourselves, but also our community and ensure that we can cultivate a world where all people are free from violence and can thrive in the communities they live, work, and pray in

Program and Communications Manager for HEART; Navila Rashid is a Bangladeshi-American forensic social worker, freelance educator & trainer, and consultant working with diverse clients. 

National Hotlines for those that need immediate support

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
  • National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE
  • Rape Crisis Hotline: 1-888-293-2080
  • AMALA Hopeline: 1-855-95-AMALA
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness: 1-800-950-6264
  • National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-422-4453

Specialty Organizations that work with Muslim Communities

National Organizations for Educational Purposes

Navila Rashid is with HEART Women & Girls, where this piece was first published.

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