Religious leaders have warned that domestic abuse victims in their communities face the greatest obstacles to getting help, and raised fears that the coronavirus lockdown was causing such violence to soar.
Figures from Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu and Sikh communities said they had heard reports of abuse in the home ranging from psychological and physical violence to spiritual abuse during the Covid-19 emergency.
Campaigners have previously warned there would be a spike in victims fleeing their abusive partners as lockdown eases, with support services, already struggling to make ends meet, being hit with an even higher demand.
A joint statement, signed by leading figures from a range of faith-based domestic abuse charities, said women in faith and black and minority ethnic (BME) communities stay with abusive partners for longer than women in the wider population and are less likely to access support.
“We cannot ignore that there are perpetrators within all our faith communities,” the statement says. “At our best, our faith communities nurture healthy relationships and strengthen society. The home exists alongside our churches, mosques, synagogues, gurdwaras and temples, to enable growth within both faith and our local communities”.
Girls at risk of child marriage are falling under the radar of authorities in England and Wales because of a lack of record-keeping by more than half of the departments responsible for children’s social care, a charity has warned.
IKWRO women’s rights organisationsays it is preparing for a spike in cases following the easing of lockdown and is urging social workers to be ready to respond.
It has written to local authorities amid concerns that some social workers were not fully trained or aware of the complexities around “honour”-based abuse including child marriage.
Responses collected under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that between 2018 and 2019, the latest data available, there were 165 children in England and Wales at risk of child marriage.
Yet 56% of departments responsible for children’s social care in the two countries were found not recording how many minors were at risk of child marriage.
During the same period 280 children in England and Wales, including 117 looked-after children, were identified by those departments that were collecting data as at risk of “honour”-based abuse. Yet 66 local authorities out of those questioned said they had no process for recording those at risk.
Somalia’s coronavirus lockdown has led to a huge increase in female genital mutilation (FGM), with circumcisers going door to door offering to cut girls stuck at home during the pandemic, according to Plan International.
The crisis is undermining efforts to eradicate the practice in Somalia, which has the world’s highest FGM rate, with about 98% of women having been cut, the charity warned.
“We’ve seen a massive increase in recent weeks,” said Sadia Allin, Plan International’s head of mission in Somalia. “We want the government to ensure FGM is included in all Covid responses.”
She said nurses across the country had also reported a surge in requests from parents wanting them to carry out FGM on their daughters while they were off school because of the lockdown.
FGM, which affects 200 million girls and women globally, involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia. In Somalia the vaginal opening is also often sewn up – a practice called infibulation.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has warned that the pandemic could lead to an extra 2 million girls worldwide being cut in the next decade as the crisis stymies global efforts to end the practice.
Allin said families in Somalia were taking advantage of school closures to carry out FGM so that the girls had time to recover from the ritual, which can take weeks.
Published: April 21st, 2020 Updated: April 21st, 2020
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 lockdownand since the spread of coronavirusincreased.
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.
Published: March 29th, 2020 Updated: March 29th, 2020
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.
Published: March 16th, 2020 Updated: March 16th, 2020
“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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
Published: February 10th, 2020 Updated: February 10th, 2020
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.
Published: February 10th, 2020 Updated: February 10th, 2020
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.