Dealing with family violence during COVID-19

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Families can be experiencing a lot of stress during the COVID-19 crisis. Families may be stuck at home together, the bread winner may not be able to work and may be worried about how they are going to survive financially. Some family members may be drinking or taking drugs to deal with the stress. All of these things can lead to an increase in physical, emotional or sexual abuse in the home, especially abuse of women and children.  Being stuck in the house with an abusive person during isolation can put you and your kids in danger. As moving out is not an option for many women, here are some measures you can take to be prepared in case you experience violence or threat of violence in your home:

Have a safety plan in place

Keep your phone charged and with you

Know where it is. Make sure you have airtime

Know who to call

Save emergency numbers into your phone, for example, the police (tel: 10111 and for SAPS child safety 08 600 10111), security company, abuse 24 hour helplines, women’s shelters etc.

Tell someone

Make sure you tell a friend, a family member or a neighbour that your partner might become violent. Discuss a safety plan with them. Tell them what you want them to do if you are in danger.

Have code words for you and for your children

Have a word which you can call or WhatsApp to your friend or neighbour if you are in danger, so that you don’t need to explain why you are calling. Discuss in advance what that person will do if they receive the coded message from you: come and get you; call the police etc. Discuss with your children what they should do if they hear the code word: Run to the neighbour’s house, etc.

Keep an emergency bag

Keep your most important documents – your ID, yours and your children’s birth certificates, a bit of money – in a secret place, so you can grab them if you need to leave in a hurry.

Get a Protection Order if you have to

If you haven’t done it already, get a protection order in place. Go to your nearest police station or magistrate’s court and demand to fill in a form called Form 2: Application for a Protection Order. A protection order is a legal document that determines the behaviour that the abuser should obey: for example, they should stop beating you, or they should support you financially, or they should hand over their gun to the police etc. A protection order is not the same thing as laying a charge against your abuser. But if they do not follow the protection order, and you report them at the police, they the abuser has to be arrested.

Self-care

It is not easy, but really important, to look after yourself. This can help you to cope better and get through the time of isolation. Looking after yourself is not being selfish. Do simple things: get enough sleep, eat properly, get some exercise every day, get some fresh air (this is still fine as long as you are keeping a physical distance from other people). Do things to take your mind off your stress: watch a funny movie, play with your kids, play a computer game, knit, cook, sing, do housework – whatever helps you.

Stay connected with others

Tell people about your feelings. Chat to someone you trust – a friend, a family member, a neighbour or someone from your church or mosque. You can also approach a counsellor. A lot of counsellors are providing services online, on the phone or via WhatsApp during the COVID19 crisis.

Physical distancing does not mean being alone. You have the right to be safe. You can get through this.

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