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Coronavirus: Rise in domestic abuse-related web searches amid COVID-19 lockdown

A surge in abuse-related searches could be a sign people are identifying themselves as victims for the first time, an expert says.

Victims of domestic abuse have been reaching out for help in ever increasing numbers.

Research has revealed a significant rise in online searches relating to domestic violence during the lockdown and since the spread of coronavirus increased.

From February to March, traffic to the website for the National Domestic Abuse Helpline increased by 156%, according to a study by online research company SEMrush.

Searches for “what is domestic abuse?” rose by 46% in the same period, and there was a 64% rise in searches for the phrases “domestic violence shelter” and “domestic abuse shelter”.

Lisa King, from the domestic violence charity Refuge, believes this is a sign some women are identifying themselves as being victims of domestic abuse for the first time and “are now reaching out for support in a way that they haven’t done before”.

“The message from government and from Refuge is that if you are experiencing domestic abuse and you want to leave your household and you are safe to do so, to then reach out and access support,” she said.

Lockdowns around the world bring rise in domestic violence

Around the world, as cities have gone into lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus, the mass efforts to save lives have put one vulnerable group more at risk.

Women and children who live with domestic violence have no escape from their abusers during quarantine, and from Brazil to Germany, Italy to China, activists and survivors say they are already seeing an alarming rise in abuse.

In Hubei province, the heart of the initial coronavirus outbreak, domestic violence reports to police more than tripled in one county alone during the lockdown in February, from 47 last year to 162 this year, activists told local media.

“The epidemic has had a huge impact on domestic violence,” Wan Fei, a retired police officer who founded a charity campaigning against abuse, told Sixth Tone website. “According to our statistics, 90% of the causes of violence [in this period] are related to the Covid-19 epidemic.”

The increased threat to women and children was a predictable side effect of the coronavirus lockdowns, said activists. Increased abuse is a pattern repeated in many emergencies, whether conflict, economic crisis or during disease outbreaks, although the quarantine rules pose a particularly grave challenge.

“It happens in all crisis situations,” said Marcy Hersh, a senior manager for humanitarian advocacy at Women Deliver. “What we worry about is just as rates of violence are on the rise, the accessibility of services and the ability of women to access these services will decrease. This is a real challenge.”

In many countries there have been calls for legal or policy changes to reflect the increased risk to women and children in quarantine.

In the UK, Mandu Reid, leader of the Women’s Equality party, has called for special police powers to evict perpetrators from homes for the duration of the lockdown, and for authorities to waive court fees for the protection orders.

FGM survivors recount horror of practice: ‘I was sobbing, it was brutal’

“I was taken on the pretext that I was going for a fun outing,” says Masooma Ranvali. “Little did I know that it would turn out to be one of the most horrible moments of my life. It was done very surreptitiously.”

Ranvali, who was seven years old at the time, says her grandmother took her to a dark, dingy building in India where she was immediately ordered to lie down on the floor by an elderly lady.

“I remember it very clearly,” she tells The Independent. “I was like, ‘Why should I lie down?’ But my grandmother pulled me down. She opened my legs and pulled down my panties. I was sobbing. It was brutal. The woman then took a blade or a knife to cut a part of me. It was painful. I know I came home and cried with my mother. I was small and innocent. I was in pain for about a week after.”

The 52-year-old, who is a survivor of female gender mutilation (FGM), says she blocked the memory out for many years due to being expressly forbidden from talking about the issue and there being a “shroud of silence” around it in her community. 

Nice Nailantei Leng’ete

Her warnings come as Equality Now, a non-government organisation which promotes the rights of women and girls, found official data on the global prevalence of FGM released by Unicef, which claims it affects at least 200 million women, “woefully” underestimates both the nature and scale of the issue. 

The report, shared with The Independent ahead of its release date, found there is growing evidence that FGM takes place across the world, in numerous countries in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, North America and Latin America.

Divya Srinivasan, who wrote the report, says: “We are missing out on counting large groups of women and children who have undergone FGM. For example, after Indonesia conducted a national survey to estimate FGM prevalence for the first time, Unicef’s global estimates jumped from 125 million to 200 million.”

Srinivasan, an Indian lawyer who specialises in women’s rights and works for the south Asia branch of Equality Now, argued a dearth of accurate data can lead to governments being reluctant to tackle FGM and ignoring the issue.

FGM, internationally recognised as a human rights violation, refers to any procedure that intentionally alters female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The procedure, which can cause a lifetime of severe health problems and pain, is often carried out without anaesthesia.

“It is a very painful, bitter, and scary memory,” Ranvali adds. “I did not speak to anyone. That includes my mother and sisters. As a child, it was very isolating. As a child, it was an inexplicable and horrible phenomenon. It has to do with the genitals which is something nobody talks about. It is that part of your body which is hush hush. It is a shameful area. It makes you feel like your genital area is dirty and like there is something wrong with you which had to be cut and removed.” 

“In my thirties, I read about the practice in Africa,” she adds. “It rang a bell in me. I thought, ‘Isn’t this what we also do? Isn’t this what happened to me?’ That was a horrible and painful moment. In my forties, I decided to break my silence. I had a young daughter who was not cut but I had the realisation that not everyone is as lucky as her. My daughter’s generation is also being cut.” 

Ranvali, who says “100 per cent” of her generation has been cut, argues FGM is carried out to control women’s sexual urges to ensure they do not have premarital sex or extramarital affairs due to the procedure making sex more painful. 

“The clitoris is the part of female anatomy where sexual pleasure is,” she adds. “To control your daughter you have to do it. There is this unsaid fear. It is fear sold to parents of girls that you have to be careful and if you do not do this then you will have trouble in your hands. It is part of patriarchal notions.”

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Dr Tasneem Perry, who is also from the Bohra community, says she has hazy memories of the day she was subjected to FGM in a private GP clinic in Sri Lanka but can recall that her father accompanied her to the doctor.

“It was unusual for my father to come,” the 42-year-old explains. “I was seven. I have had a year of counselling and I still have not got this memory back.” 

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Dr Perry, who says the procedure was carried out in a medical setting despite the practice being illegal, did not become aware of the fact she had been cut until she turned 16 or 17 and asked her mother about what had happened to her.

She adds: “My need to talk about it is to prevent another girl from going through what I went through. If you belong to the Bohra community FGM is a requirement. The dichotomy is the community is very open, liberal, educated and well-integrated.” 

Dr Perry, who now works as a teacher, says as she got older she started to question what normal sex would be like and started to feel a profound sense of loss. Her mother would cry when she brought it up with her as she got older, she adds.

“I remember feeling that whatever had been done to me had been done to make me a suitable wife,” she says. “It fuelled my desire not to conform or marry within the community. I had confused feelings of anger and discomfort. It was all this buried emotion – unarticulated frustrated rage. The year before last I finally had a physical examination at the doctors and a specialist said I have no visible clitoris. I feel like a part of me that makes me completely whole was taken away from me. I have lost something I can never replace. The grief will never go away.”



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Justice at long last – Abusive husband Mohammed Abdul Shakur faces prison sentence for killing wife and two children

Mohammed Abdul Shakur, 46, spent years on the run after killing 26-year-old Juli Begum and daughters Anika and Thanha, aged five and six, on New Year’s Day 2007

An abusive husband will be sentenced on Thursday for murdering his estranged wife and their two young children.

Mohammed Abdul Shakur, 46, spent years on the run after killing 26-year-old Juli Begum and daughters Anika and Thanha, aged five and six, on New Year’s Day 2007.

Following a trial at the Old Bailey last year, Shakur was found guilty of carrying out the murders at the family home in East Ham, east London.

The court had heard the couple had an arranged marriage in Bangladesh when Ms Begum was 19 but Shakur was repeatedly violent towards his wife and did not like their children much because they were not boys.

HERStory exhibition breaks silence on gender-based violence

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – It’s time to shatter the silence around violence against women in the Kurdistan Region. That’s the message of an exhibit that opens Monday in Erbil and is both a memorial to the women killed in 2019 and a tribute to the people working on the front line helping Kurdistan’s women.

“We don’t talk about rape. We don’t talk about honour killing. We don’t talk about violence, because it’s taboo,” explained artist and activist Dashni Morad, the driving force behind the HERStory exhibition.

That taboo comes from the culture, Morad believes. “For decades, especially in an Islamic-dominated region… the honour of the woman is the honour of the family, the brother, the father.” If a woman does something deemed damaging to the family’s honour, “there’s an unspoken code of ‘take care of it’” and the community will turn a blind eye to the crime, she said.

Birmingham uncle jailed for trying to force niece into Pakistan marriage

A Birmingham uncle has been jailed after trying to force his niece into a marriage in Pakistan – where she was “kept prisoner” for over a year.

The victim, now 21, was ubjected to savage beatings at the hands of her relative and one occasion had a gun put to her head.

She eventually managed to flee from Pakistan after she was clandestinely smuggled back to the UK.

The 55-year-old uncle, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, was previously found guilty of arranging a forced marriage and two charges of cruelty.

He was today sentenced to seven years in jail.

Police failing to protect rape and abuse victims, says super-complaint

Data from 11 frontline services shows forces failing to use legal powers, says group

Police are “systematically failing” to protect victims of domestic and sexual violence, according to campaigners in the second super-complaint made to a national watchdog.

The Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ) has accused police forces of failing to use existing powers to deal with domestic abuse, harassment, stalking and rape.

In a super-complaint to HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, the group makes four key claims focusing on bail for rape suspects and failures linked to non-molestation, domestic violence and restraint orders.

“Centre for Women’s Justice has become concerned that the various legal measures intended to provide protection to women are not being applied properly on the ground,” the document says.

“This super-complaint addresses four legal powers available to the police in detail and explores the extent to which, and the reasons why, they are not being used adequately. When all the failures are taken cumulatively, CWJ believes that there is a systemic failure to meet the state’s duty to safeguard a highly vulnerable section of the population.”

‘Landmark’ overhaul for domestic abuse laws

Domestic abuse victims will receive a wide range of new measures to protect them in what ministers say will be landmark legislation.

New laws will for the first time create a legal definition of domestic abuse, to include economic abuse and control.

The long-awaited legislation will also ban abusers from cross-examining victims in family courts.

Campaigners say the measures are a “once in a generation” opportunity to combat the impact of abuse.

Government experts estimate domestic abuse cost society £66bn in 2016/17 and it’s hoped the changes will improve the response.

The draft bill going before MPs will also:

  • Create new powers to force perpetrators into behaviour-changing rehabilitation programmes
  • Make victims automatically eligible for special protections when they are giving evidence in criminal trials
  • Set up a national “domestic abuse commissioner” tasked with improving the response and support for victims across public services

‘Huge relief’ as loans scrapped for forced marriage victims

Campaigners tell Sky News a “massive burden” has been lifted, after Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt intervenes.

Victims of forced marriages brought back to the UK will no longer be asked to take out a loan to repay the cost of their rescue.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the charge would be scrapped immediately after outrage from MPs and charities when it was exposed.

Victims returning home were previously required to pay for their plane tickets, basic food and shelter – or take out a loan with the Foreign Office.

One was billed £814 to be repatriated to the UK from life in a forced marriage in Islamabad, Pakistan, and had to give up her passport until the fee was paid.

The revelation, first reported by The Times, prompted a fierce backlash.

One MP likened it to the Windrush scandal, while another branded it part of a “cruel system of bureaucracy”.

Mr Hunt, writing to the foreign affairs select committee, said forced marriage victims would now be treated as “exceptionally vulnerable people”.

“From now on, none of those who are assisted by the forced marriage unit, and would previously have been offered a loan, will have to cover the costs of their repatriation,” said the foreign secretary.

Woman on fire ‘doused by neighbours’ in Middlesbrough

A woman who was found on fire in a garden is being treated for life-threatening burns after neighbours came to her aid.

Neighbours said they wrapped the woman in cling film after putting out the flames.

Cleveland Police said they were called to the incident on Acklam Road in Middlesbrough at about 12:40 GMT.

A man is also in hospital with serious burn injuries although they are not life-threatening, a spokeswoman said.

One man, who did not wish to be named, told BBC Tees he heard shouts for help.

“My neighbour was on fire in a garden,” he added.

“Me and my other neighbours helped put her out.”

The man said they also put out a fire in the house and he reported seeing a canister on fire.


He said another neighbour, who is a first-aider, “did the majority of putting her out” before wrapping cling film around the woman.

The neighbour said the pair were “completely covered in burns” and had “very serous injuries”.

“It was horrible to see,” he added.

The woman was taken to James Cook University Hospital before being transferred to the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle.

The man is being treated at James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough.

A police spokeswoman said officers are working to determine the cause of the injuries.

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