A call for safe spaces
Fiel Estrella (The Philippine Star) - May 1, 2020 - 12:00am

Lately we find ourselves looking for ways to fill the time. Just before sleep, especially, when you want to rest but your brain won’t quiet itself just yet — a book or a movie proves too tedious, and you need something to wind down, so you find yourself on Reddit’s Relationship Advice community to read a stranger’s plight or two. It’s a great place for human-interest stories ranging from the mildly irritating (run-of-the-mill cheating dilemmas, with maybe a pregnancy thrown in) to the absurd (a man’s fiancée won’t let him into the upstairs area of their new home for months, but she won’t tell him why).

More recently the people posting on the Subreddit have been at their wits’ end, having to live with family, friends, roommates or significant others under lockdown for almost two months. Unpleasant habits and petty fights are common — but a few weeks ago, one of the pinned posts on Relationship Advice was a list of resources for domestic abuse in the time of COVID-19. Suddenly relationship problems in the midst of what we’re facing now are far less amusing.
The list of resources was compiled by a verified crisis counselor under the username u/Ebbie45. According to the post, the implementation of social and physical distancing due to the pandemic poses a greater risk for domestic violence victims. They are isolated and closely confined with their abuser, making it more difficult to seek help, and there are fewer public venues through which to escape.
In addition to this, methods by which abusers might gaslight and control their victims include withholding or limiting food, preventing access to medical care and supplies, confiscating devices and preventing communication, and more frequent violence. It’s harder as well to turn to hospitals in case of grave injuries due to the high number of patients at this time.

The New York Times has reported on higher domestic violence rates across the world. In France, for example, a nationwide increase of around 30 percent in domestic violence has been reported by local authorities, while in Spain, the emergency number for domestic violence has received 18 percent more calls in the first two weeks of lockdown compared to the same period in the previous month. Researchers from the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) have projected a possible increase of 20 percent in domestic violence cases across all 193 UN member states during an average three-month lockdown period.

In the Philippines, the Center for Women’s Resources recently reported that at least one woman or child is abused every 10 minutes. Early in April, the Commission on Human Rights urged the government to consider measures that could address the escalation of incidents related to domestic violence, as the enhanced community quarantine has made it difficult for victims to seek help and treatment.

While a functional national hotline that serves this purpose has yet to materialize, the Office of Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who has expressed concerns similar to the above, has partnered with Lunas Collective to launch a Messenger helpline for women during the lockdown. The helpline, which is available on Facebook and operational between 1 to 4 p.m., provides support and psychosocial counseling to women who need assistance with family planning or are suffering from violence and abuse. Users have the option to type their own message, or choose one of the pre-written options relating to emergency services, contraceptives, or abuse.
To some of us, the stories on Relationship Advice may just be something to pass the time; but for a lot of people, these problems are very real, and terrifying to face head-on. If you’ve got time to spare, there is also an option to volunteer for the Lunas Collective, which is currently in its pilot phase. It aims to uplift and help survivors of gender-based violence by providing a safe space — because in these situations, a little empathy and compassion can go a long way toward changing victims’ lives for the better, permanently.

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Visit Lunas Collective at facebook.com/LunasCollective.
With strict guidelines against citizens leaving their homes during a raging pandemic, research points to an increase of domestic violence cases worldwide. Here’s where to get help.

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