(By Cllr Qaisar Abbas)
WE all are confined to our homes due to COVID-19 pandemic. Even though, we have all the facilities but still it is very difficult for all of us to stay inside the house. We are bored, worried and want to return to our normal life quickly. Hopefully, after few weeks, we will be able to do so. Sadly, there are thousands of women and men who will not be able to do so, because they are trapped inside their homes for years with no or little access to phones or internet. Their life is coercively being controlled and they are verbally, sexually, economically and physically being abused. Yes, they are victims of domestic abuse and unfortunately, there is no escape for them.
In October last year, I wrote an article on domestic violence. I particularly highlighted this growing and hidden crime within ethnic communities. Again on 30th March this year, I posted on my social media that “Lockdown or Coronavirus is not an excuse to commit any crime. If you are a victim of domestic violence or any other crime, do not stay silent, report it…” I also shared a link to report such incidents.
On Monday 6 April, I was sitting in my garden, reading online newspapers and I saw a report on BBC News. According to this report: “The National Domestic Abuse helpline has seen a 25% increase in calls and online requests for help since the lockdown…”
This sudden increase in short span of time is alarming and authorities should act immediately to help the victims.
Few days ago, I received a call from a new number. The lady on the other end told me about a friend who gave her my number and then she asked me if I could speak Punjabi language. I replied ‘yes’, and she started talking: “I was born in a very poor family. My parents arranged my marriage and my British Husband brought me here in the nineties. I have a number of children from this marriage. A few years later, my husband fell ill and died after few months. My deceased husband left some money and a house on my name. My life changed significantly after my husband’s death. My father and brother-in-law moved into our home and they both control every aspect of my life.
Since then, I am not allowed to go out from the house for more than 20-30 minutes. I am not even allowed to call or visit anyone without their permission. They regularly check my bank account, my telephone calls and messages. I cook for everyone and spend almost all day doing domestic chores. They are always threatening me that if I will not listen to them, they will take all my money and will also kick me and my children out of my own house. I am scared that they will hurt my children and we will become homeless. I even once reported this to the police and a local charity but both told me that I do not have any proof to support my case and since then, I kept quite. This thought is even scarier that I will not be able to get any help from the authorities. I am suffering from for many years, please help me.”
During this conversation, she disconnected the phone line 3/4 times, as she heard someone walking towards her room. She was continuously crying and I was speechless. I somehow pulled myself together and reassured her. I signposted her to relevant authorities.
She is being abused verbally, economically and emotionally. Her in-laws are coercively controlling her daily life. Yes, she is a victim of domestic violence.
This is not just a story; this is happening in reality to so many men and women. I am hundred percent sure that there are thousands more like her who are trapped inside their homes for years without any help or support. Unfortunately, the so called family members are the perpetrators who tactically blackmail the victims and exploit their vulnerability. In certain communities, it is considered a taboo to discuss or report these crimes. Please do not stay silent, reach out, help is available.
In the UK, call 999 (*press 55 if you can’t speak) or contact Refuge UK wide 24-hour helpline on 08082000247. You can also visit this website for further details: https://www.gov.uk/report-domestic-abuse.