Pandemic makes escaping domestic violence harder

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The sudden lockdown due to the new surge of Covid cases disrupted Liang Xin’s plan.

Liang, who lives in Shanghai, turned 50 this year. She has recently been granted a divorce from her violent husband after calling the police several times, and decided to move out from the family home with her daughter by the end of April.

However, the city-wide lockdown in Shanghai put paid to her plans.

Nowhere to run

On April 23, Liang’s ex-husband suddenly lost his temper and began to throw things at her. The instinct to survive pushed Liang and her daughter to escape quickly from their home, however, there was nowhere for them to go due to the lockdown. In fear, the mother and daughter ran into the stairwell of the building, but the man rushed out of the house and chased after them.

“The alcoholic is at home…and he’s going to kill me,” Liang, still in shock, shouted at the anti-domestic violence volunteers Xiaotu and Dingding when she was finally able to contact them. The violence resulted in multiple injuries to her body, including a suspected broken finger.

Gripped by fear, Liang first requested to be separated from her abuser and to be put in a safe environment. But under strict pandemic prevention restrictions, she couldn’t find a place to go.

With the consent of the neighborhood committee where her community is located, Liang and her daughter were allowed to spend a night at the community property office, hoping to find a temporary shelter before the next night.

With the help of the volunteers, Liang managed to find a vacant apartment in the same community that she could move into at any time, but the neighborhood committee said that during the pandemic, even in the same community, if she wanted to move to another building, she must first obtain the consent of all the residents of that building. But at least one person declined to give their consent.

Xiaotu, one of the volunteers who kept in close contact with Liang, tried to make calls to the district women’s federation office, but was unable to get hold of anyone. The volunteers also tried to call 12338, the National Women’s Rights Protection Hotline, but the one who finally answered was a temporary volunteer who could only give them the contact details of some agencies that might help.

In recent years, under the guidance of the Women’s Federation and the Ministry of Civil Affairs, various districts in Shanghai have established anti-domestic violence shelters in the neighborhood aid stations, providing temporary free accommodation for victims of domestic violence who cannot return home. After many setbacks, the volunteers contacted a station in Liang’s street, who told them that the shelter was currently occupied by migrants unable to return home due to the pandemic.

Xiaotu finally contacted a staff member from the Women’s Federation using a private phone number, who helped call the police and get Liang a pass from the neighborhood committee. She then took her daughter to live in a hotel nearby for over a month, paying over 500 yuan ($74) per day.

How to get help?

During the Shanghai lockdown, Xiaotu and Dingding, who have always been concerned about the issue of gender-based violence, handled more than a dozen similar requests for help.

They told China Philanthropist magazine that many victims who suffered from domestic violence did not know who to turn to and how to seek help. On the other hand, they also found that there was a lack of a specific, clear and effective, easy-to-read and easy-to-find guidance for people experiencing domestic violence during the lockdown.

In early April, volunteers such as Xiaotu and Dingding cooperated with the compasSH volunteer team to write a “Quick Guide to Domestic Violence Relief During Shanghai’s Lockdown and Control Period” to encourage victims to seek help by listing available resources and outlining detailed steps.

Looking to the future

For victims of domestic violence, the priority needs are safety and prompt medical attention. Seeking medical treatment during the lockdown can be a problem, but with the timely intervention of official agencies, it’s not impossible to solve.

However, public security, women’s federations and other relevant departments had a very heavy workload during the pandemic, decreasing their ability to quickly handle requests for help.

Lv Xiaoquan, executive director of Beijing Qianqian Law Firm, told China Philanthropist that he and the firm had moved all legal aid services online due to the lockdown. “The efficiency of aid became greatly reduced during the lockdown, and the multi-agency cooperation mechanism has basically failed because it’s difficult to cooperate,” he said.

Lv suggested that anti-domestic violence work should be included in the local government’s policy plan during the pandemic control period.

Xiaotu and Dingding agreed: “The lockdown in Shanghai this time was sudden, and there was not enough time to make a plan. For example, the police need to have a procedure for handling domestic violence cases during the pandemic, and the 12338 hotline of the Women’s Federation should be better prepared to match domestic violence victims to aid stations and shelters nearby.”