[OPINION] Women are in the forefront of another battle

Ed Garcia

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[OPINION] Women are in the forefront of another battle
'If you are a neighbor and you hear something that you gauge to be danger, then you have to call the authorities immediately'

The Independent, one of the UK’s major digital sources of news, reported recently that the numbers of domestic abuse killings appears to have doubled while the country has been in lockdown.  Not because there are new aggressors but because the quarantine has created “hot house” conditions for the flare up of violent behavior between partners. (READ: Fears of domestic violence rise as millions confined over virus)

In the Philippines, even without the coronavirus lockdown, police response and resources for domestic violence support have always been poor, but now during quarantine even altruistic neighbors would think twice before intervening due to fear of possibly bringing COVID-19 contamination back into their own households.

What can we do?

If you are a neighbor and you hear something that you gauge to be danger, then you have to call the authorities immediately. It is a good idea to try and use your phone to record the incident while you wait for the authorities to arrive. This can later be used as evidence to charge the perpetrator. It is important to bear in mind that it can sometimes be dangerous to call the police if you don’t know that is something the victim really wants, thus it is important to use one’s judgment.

If you are able to have a safe conversation (making sure that the perpetrator cannot hear the conversation) with someone you think is a victim of domestic abuse, try to express concern, listen to what she tells you, validate her feelings, offer your help without blame, judgment or pressure, and support her chosen course of action. Empower her choice safely, if she is choosing to stay, help her come up with a safety plan just in case she does decide to leave. Find out if she has relatives she can stay with, think of alternatives in case plan A doesn’t pan out. (READ: U.N. chief urges governments to protect women during virus lockdown

The 7 steps guide

Mark outlines the following steps to take, particularly, in dealing with potential aggressors during this critical time: 

  1. Be reflective, when things get heated we usually focus on our own feelings and the other person’s behavior. Instead, practice focusing on other people’s feeling and looking at your own behavior.

  2. Be conscious of your unpleasant feelings. Notice the physical signals that are happening to your body when you feel irritable, angry or sad. Think of what is going on outside and inside your body (are you clenching your fists, are your shoulder muscles tense, is your heart beating faster). 

  3. Be aware of your thoughts. A good warning sign is when we start to swear in our heads. This is a good time to try and wind ourselves down. Swearing in our heads leads to objectifying a person and making that person less than, which then makes it easier for us to abuse them.

  4. Challenge your own point of view, perspective and entrenched beliefs. Focus on the positives and be mindful of your own cognitive distortions.

  5. Know that all emotions are valid but not all behavior is acceptable. It is ok to feel angry. It is not ok to shout or be abusive to someone when you feel anger. It is definitely not ok to be physically violent to someone when you feel anger. It is more than ok to feel powerless and vulnerable. It is not easy and your instincts to this may be to fight or run, but it’s best to practice feeling powerless and learning to sit through the difficult experience. It will get easier with practice and time.

  6. Be accountable, most people think that there is only one consequence when they think or feel someone has been disrespectful to them and that their abusive or violent action is an automatic reflex action. This is not the case. The only reflex reaction the human body does is the knee jerk reflex reaction. Any other action is a choice. It may not feel this way as the time between feeling disrespected and choosing to act or be abusive can be a matter of seconds. If you do become abusive, be accountable. Own it, apologies for it, try to rectify it if you can, most importantly think what steps you can put in place so that you can ensure as much as possible that you won’t repeat the same mistake again.

  7. Be brutally honest with yourself, instead of justifying your actions, think – can I honestly say without a doubt that I was not abusive to another person. Remember – The meaning of Non-Abusive behavior is: being sure there was no other alternative decision you could have made to not make the other person feel bad.

In brief, it is best to prepare and plan ahead. Devise a plan of action for the time when you feel angry, and learn to calm down, best perhaps, by doing breathing exercises that will exercise you to regain self-control.  

In the end, this is another battlefront we can least ignore. – Rappler.com

This piece arose from conversations with our son Mark who works as the Domestic Violence Prevention and Intervention Co-coordinator in Social Care for one of London’s poorest and most densely populated boroughs. He noted the dramatic increase of domestic violence suffered by spouses as health and economic tensions rise within family settings during the lockdown. It has become doubly urgent since reports have surfaced that killings due to domestic violence has more than doubled in the UK, and most probably in other countries and ours as well. 

Ed Garcia is a framer of the 1987 Constitution, and a former professor at the Ateneo, UP, and consultant for formation at the Far Eastern FEU. He worked at Amnesty International and International Alert in the UK.

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