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A Tread Of Domestic Violence Globally

Violence against women increased to record levels around the world following lockdowns to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The United Nations called the situation a "shadow pandemic" in a 2021 report about domestic violence in 13 nations in Africa, Asia, South America, Eastern Europe, and the Balkans.

In the United States, the American Journal of Emergency Medicine reported alarming trends in U.S. domestic violence, and the National Domestic Violence Hotline (The Hotline) received more than 74,000 calls, chats, and texts in February, the highest monthly contact volume of its 25-year history. The Gazette spoke with Marianna Yang, lecturer on law and clinical instructor at the Family and Domestic Violence Law Clinic at WilmerHale Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School, about the crisis. The interview was edited for clarity and length.

GAZETTE: The most recent statistics about domestic violence during the pandemic are worrisome. What do those numbers mean?
YANG: In 2021, the United Nations published the report "Measuring the Shadow Pandemic: Violence Against Women During COVID-19." It said that since the pandemic, violence against women has increased to unprecedented levels.

The American Journal of Emergency Medicine said that domestic violence cases increased by 25 to 33 percent globally. The National Commission on COVID-19 and criminal justice shows an increase in the U.S. by a little over 8 percent, following the imposition of lockdown orders during 2020. I don't have anything more specific for Massachusetts, but there is no reason to believe that we are any different from the rest. Domestic violence is prevalent everywhere.

According to all statistics I have seen from 2020-2021, domestic violence and intimate partner violence during the pandemic has increased because the risk factors have increased with lockdowns and pandemic restrictions.

GAZETTE: What role did the pandemic play in the rise of risk factors for domestic violence?
YANG: The increase in numbers really shows that there are unintended consequences to some of the lockdowns recommended by global health experts to address the pandemic. There are good reasons for lockdowns to protect public health, but we have to recognize the collateral and unintended impacts as well. That's not to say that we should not have lockdowns, but there must be more focus on the resources to address those secondary impacts as well.

A lockdown increases the risk factors for domestic violence in multiple ways: there are more financial stressors because of income loss due to unemployment; there is also the loss of the ability to have breathing spaces for people who are in risky relationships. When people are working outside the home, interactions with their partner are limited to certain hours of the day, and the potential time for conflict is also limited. In a lockdown, not only do you take away those breathing spaces, but you also increase the dynamics where domestic violence can occur.

Also, beyond that, during a lockdown, the ability to get help is limited because you don't have the private space to call somebody; you're isolated from your support system as a victim/survivor, and you can't access your family and friends, the people that you rely on. In all those facets and all those ways, the risk goes up for violence.

"There are good reasons for lockdowns to protect public health, but we have to recognize the collateral and unintended impacts as well."

GAZETTE: How did the reporting of domestic violence incidents fluctuate during the pandemic?
YANG: I do know that at the very beginning of the pandemic, the number of calls into hotlines were showing a decrease, but that didn't mean that suddenly domestic violence was declining. It meant that the opportunities to have a safe space to call or ask for help were limited. As the restrictions were relaxed a bit, we saw an increase in the calls for help, but they could also mean that the situation might have escalated to a point where it would push someone to make calls they otherwise would not have before the pandemic.

Generally speaking, domestic violence and intimate partner violence are underreported, and that was before and during the pandemic. There are plenty of folks who, for many good reasons, do not reach out for help. Before the pandemic, there were two hashtags � #WhyIStayed, #WhyILeft � which helped facilitate discussions around many of the reasons why people decide to stay or leave.

GAZETTE: In which other ways were domestic violence victims affected by the pandemic?
YANG: I don't have direct access to information about shelters during the pandemic. I'm sure they remained open for the current residents, but I don't know whether they were accepting new residents. What I do know is that judges were less likely to grant motions like Motions to Vacate the Marital Home due to the pandemic restrictions. Although this didn't happen in any of my cases, there were anecdotes about judges being much less willing to consider those motions because of the inability of anyone to leave the house and go somewhere else.

But in situations where there is clear violence, and the plaintiff can show imminent physical safety issues, judges must first and foremost consider the safety aspects of the plaintiff seeking a protective order. Judges handled restraining orders during the pandemic as emergency petitions, and the courts were open for those, but everything had to be remote and remote on a dime.

There were situations where it was more difficult to provide evidence because documents or affidavits were usually filed with the court and had to be filed in person. There were gaps in the court's systems during the pandemic, and understandably so, but that doesn't lessen the impact and hardships that the victims had to endure.

GAZETTE: How did the pandemic impact the services provided by the Family Law and Domestic Violence Clinic at HLS?
YANG: By the time domestic violence victims get to us, it's several steps removed. The clinic has a partnership with the Passageway program at Brigham and Women's Hospital, which provides services directly to domestic violence clients, including safety planning.

My understanding is that they've faced an increased number of clients seeking their assistance. Those who needed to seek restraining orders and address issues through the probate and family courts were referred to us to the extent that we could access the courts. Because of the court's closures, we provided increased levels of consultation and education around the law for when the clients could make a legal move.

Now that the courts are open again, what we're noticing, especially in the courts that we're practicing in, is that things are getting delayed a lot longer than they used to. Even if people can go to court, getting motions in a divorce case or getting custody and child support issues heard in front of a judge has taken months longer. Before the pandemic, it took about 30 days for motion to be heard.

These days, it takes two weeks or more just to get motions docketed and then another 30 or 60 days, if not more, after that. We're seeing a lot of chaos in terms of the workings of some of the courts; there are files that go missing and pro se litigants [those representing themselves] needing to get in front of the judges can't get through the bureaucracy of the courts.

According to a study published in BMC Women's Health, the rate of reported cases of cruelty by husband or relatives in India was 28.3 per 100,000 women aged 15-49 years in 2018, which is an increase of 53% from 2001. The study also found that the rate of reported dowry deaths and abetment to suicide was 2.0 and 1.4 per 100,000 women aged 15-49 years in 2018, respectively. The reporting system resulted in underreporting for certain crime-headings, and only 6.8% of the cases completed trials, with offenders convicted only in 15.5% cases in 2018.

It is important to note that domestic violence is not limited to India. According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men have experienced sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime in the United States. The United Nations has described increased violence against women during the pandemic as a "shadow pandemic," and the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice reported an 8 percent increase in domestic violence in the United States in 2021.

The biggest hurdle has been the bureaucratic aspects of getting in front of a judge. Minimizing that delay is now a much bigger part of our advocacy. We also need more legal aid and pro bono lawyers who understand that people who are in domestic violence situations are going through trauma. One of the best ways to support victims of domestic violence is to offer trauma-informed lawyering, which is another way to holistically support a client going through a difficult situation.

Domestic violence in Indian women: lessons from nearly 20 years of surveillance:
Prevalence of self-reported domestic violence against women in India is high. This paper investigates the national and sub-national trends in domestic violence in India to prioritise prevention activities and to highlight the limitations to data quality for surveillance in India.

Data were extracted from annual reports of National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB) under four domestic violence crime-headings�cruelty by husband or his relatives, dowry death, abetment to suicide, and protection of women against domestic violence act. Rate for each crime is reported per 100,000 women aged 15�49 years, for India and its states from 2001 to 2018. Data on persons arrested and legal status of the cases were extracted.

Rate of reported cases of cruelty by husband or relatives in India was 28.3 (95% CI 28.1�28.5) in 2018, an increase of 53% from 2001. State-level variations in this rate ranged from 0.5 (95% CI − 0.05 to 1.5) to 113.7 (95% CI 111.6�115.8) in 2018.

Rate of reported dowry deaths and abetment to suicide was 2.0 (95% CI 2.0�2.0) and 1.4 (95% CI 1.4�1.4) in 2018 for India, respectively. Overall, a few states accounted for the temporal variation in these rates, with the reporting stagnant in most states over these years. The NCRB reporting system resulted in underreporting for certain crime-headings.

The mean number of people arrested for these crimes had decreased over the period. Only 6.8% of the cases completed trials, with offenders convicted only in 15.5% cases in 2018. The NCRB data are available in heavily tabulated format with limited usage for intervention planning. The non-availability of individual level data in public domain limits exploration of patterns in domestic violence that could better inform policy actions to address domestic violence.

The primary source of the NCRB data is the First Information Report (FIR) completed by a police officer for any domestic violence incident which is compiled at the state level and provided to NCRB. FIR is a document prepared by police when they receive information about the commission of a cognizable offence either by the victim of the cognizable offence or by someone on their behalf [19, 20].

It captures the date, time and location of offence, the details of offence, the details of victim and person reporting the offence, and steps taken by the police after receiving these details. The NCRB reports provide summary data based on these FIRs, which we utilized from 2001 to 2018 available in the public domain for this analysis. The details of data extracted and utilized are described below.

Type of data
Four crime headings corresponding to domestic violence related crimes against women were considered after consultation with legal experts who dealt with domestic violence cases based on the crime headings under which these are registered in India - cruelty by husband or his relatives, dowry death, abetment of suicide of women, and cases registered under PWDVA (A case is filed under 'cruelty by husband or his relatives' (Section 498A of the IPC) when there is evidence of violence causing grave injury or of harassment to fulfill an unlawful demand for property.

Case of death of a woman within 7 years of marriage with evidence of dowry harassment is filed under dowry death (IPC Section 304B). As domestic violence is known as a risk factor for death by suicide among married women, we also considered the cases registered under abetment of suicide of women.

The cases under the PWDVA act criminalize perpetrators of domestic violence, defined to include physical, verbal, sexual, emotional and economic abuse in addition to dowry-related violence. The NCRB reports data based on the "Principal Offence Rule," which means that regardless of the number of offences under which a case of domestic violence is legally registered, it is reported only under the most serious crime heading by the NCRB.

Data extraction
NCRB reports included the number of cases filed as well as the number of victims under each of the four crime headings for 2014�2018 but reported only the number of cases filed from 2001 to 2013. The ratio of the number of cases to victims was 1.0 for 2014 to 2018, and hence we use the number of cases filed for this analysis from 2001 to 2018. Individual level-data is not published in the NCRB report.

Data for cruelty by husband or his relatives and for dowry death were available from 2001 to 2018, while data for abetment of suicide of women and PWDVA were available only from 2014 to 2018. We extracted the number of cases filed under each of the four domestic violence crime heads for each year for each state and for India.

We also extracted data on the number of persons arrested under each crime category, which were available from 2001 to 2015 for the states and until 2018 for India. Here too, the data on abetment of suicide and PWDVA was available from 2014 to 2018 only.

Lastly, we extracted data on the number of legal cases filed for these crimes and their current status in the judicial system. This legal data was available cumulatively for only India, and since it could not be extrapolated for each year from the tables, we analyzed this only for 2018.

Cruelty by husband or his relatives
A total of 1,548,548 cases were reported under cruelty by husband or his relatives in India from 2001 to 2018, with 554,481 (35.8%) between 2014 and 2018. The reported rate of this crime in India was 18.5 (95% CI 18.3�18.6) in 2001 and 28.3 (95% CI 28.1�28.5) in 2018 per 100,000 women aged 15�49 years, marking a significant increase of 53% (95% CI 51.7�54.3) over this period.

This rate was 37.9 (95% CI 37.5�38.3) for the middle SDI states as compared with 27.6 (95% CI 27.4�27.8) in the low- and 18.1 (95% CI 17.8�18.4) in the high-SDI states in 2018. This reported crime rate remained higher in the middle SDI states between 2001 and 2018 as compared with the other states, reaching its highest levels between 2011 and 2014.

Wide variations were seen in the rate for reported cruelty by husband or his relatives in 2018 at the state-level, which ranged from 0.5 (95% CI -0.05 0�1.5) in Sikkim to 113.7 (95% CI 111.6�115.8) in Assam. The state of Delhi, Assam, West Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Jammu and Kashmir documented > 160% increase in this reported crime rate during 2001�2018. The greatest decline in the rate of this reported crime was seen in Mizoram, 74.3% from 2001 to 2018

Dowry deaths
A total of 137,627 crimes were reported as dowry deaths between 2001 and 2018, with 38,342 (27.9%) cases between 2014 and 2018. The rate of this reported crime in India was 2.0 (95% CI 2.5�2.7) in 2018 per 100,000 women aged 15�49 years. This rate in 2018 was 3.1 (95% CI 3.0�3.2) in the low-SDI states as compared to 1.2 (95% CI 1.1�1) in the middle- and 0.7 (95% CI 0.60�0.8) in the high-SDI states, and this trend was seen throughout the period studied.

At the state level in 2018, this rate ranged from 0.11 (95% CI 0�0.32) in Meghalaya to 4.0 (95% CI 3.8�4.2) in Uttar Pradesh; no cases were reported in Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram or Nagaland. The largest decline in this rate was seen in the states of Tamil Nadu and Gujarat over the study period.

Abetment of suicide of women
Data under this crime head was available from 2014 to 2018, during which 22,579 cases were reported. The average rate of this crime was 1.27 (95% CI 1.25�1.29) per 100,000 women aged 15�49 years over this period. Overall, relatively higher rates were recorded in middle-SDI states (2.2; 95% CI 2.1�2.3), followed by high- (1.7; 95% CI 1.6�1.8) and low- (0.73; 95% CI 0.69�0.77) SDI states.

Notably, the middle- and high-SDI groups recorded a similar rate in 2014, after which the middle-SDI states recorded a steady increase in rate until 2017, while the high-SDI states saw an initial dip in 2015 and then an increase till 2017. The rate in the low-SDI states remained low throughout this period.

At the state-level in 2018, this rate ranged from 0.07 (95% CI 0.02 to 0.12) in Odisha to 4.0 (95% CI 3.6�4.4) in Telangana; no cases were reported in Bihar, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Sikkim and Nagaland. While some states did not record any case, other states recorded significant changes between the 2014 and 2018.

This rate in Tamil Nadu increased by 450% from 2014 to 2018, and West Bengal and Gujarat recorded an increase of over 100%, while this rate declined the most in Telangana, by 31%. The mean number of persons arrested for this crime in India recorded a small increase from 1.4 in 2014 to 1.7 in 2018, and was similar across the state SDI groups.

Status of the legal cases:
The poor response of formal system to domestic violence is also reflected in the legal recourse as only 6.8% of the cases filed completed trials in 2018, with the majority of accused being acquitted. This bleak state of waiting, extended trials and low conviction is known to further discourage women from reporting.

The legal process is also influenced by the patriarchy driven attitudes of the police and people in the legal systems, and their unwillingness to act on domestic violence cases which they view as "private matter," such that many cases are not investigated, or dropped due to delay in filing.

In other cases, the investigation is based on the statement of the husband or relatives rather than fingerprints, with the perpetrator of violence not even recorded in over 90% of the cases Notably, little empirical research is available on the perceptions of abusive husbands and families on domestic violence that can facilitate intervention programs for abusive husbands.

Limitations and way forward
There are limitations to the data presented and the interpretation. The NCRB data depend on the availability and quality of data recorded by the police at the local level, which is known to have varied quality. The findings have to be interpreted within in this limitation as it is not possible for us to comment on the extent of underreporting of data or the pattern of underreporting by type of crime, year or state.

The heterogeneity in the NCRB data at the state level highlighted by the noisy trends or stagnant trend for certain states do not allow for a meaningful interpretation, and calls for a robust assessment of the reporting practices by the police and judiciary at state level to identify the gaps for inadequate documentation and underreporting that can facilitate appropriate corrective measures to improve data quality.

We assumed the age group of affected women to be 15�49 years. Though majority of the cases are likely to be in this age group given the other available information, the unavailability of age of women affected by the type of crime, year and state restricts understanding of the target women for prevention and action. Currently, the data are available in heavily tabulated fixed formats that limit the extent of disaggregated analysis.

Because of non-availability of data on number of victims for some years, we assumed the ratio of the number of cases to victims based on the available data for other years. More informative analyses may also be possible if the NCRB reports allow for anonymized individual level data to be available in the public domain, including repeat reports of domestic violence by individual women.

Despite NCRB being a passive surveillance source, efforts can be made to improve the quality of information collected by the police during their routine tasks to improve utilisation of these data for planning action.

The World Health Organization injury surveillance guidelines could provide practical advice on collecting systematic data on domestic violence, which can be more comparable over time and location. Training and sensitisation of the police to address gender violence should also include standardizations in capturing of the data and the quality of data captured.

Disasters, natural or otherwise, disproportionately impact women and girls with some evidence suggesting that violence against women increases in disaster settings, however, there is a lack of rigorously designed and good quality studies that are needed to inform evidence-based policies and safeguard women and girls during and after disasters.

There has also been suggestion of an increase in domestic violence against women during the Covid-19 pandemic, globally and in India. In this context, the urgency to address the gaps highlighted in the NCRB data is even more for India to protect its women against domestic violence.

India needs to address the gaps in the administrative data to effectively respond to the SDG target five to eliminate all forms of violence against women.

This longitudual analysis of the reported cases of domestic violence of nearly 20 years across the Indian states has highlighted the under-reporting and almost stagnant data, which hinders formulating of well-informed public health intervention strategies to reduce domestic violence in India.

Urgent actions are needed to improve the robustness of NCRB data and the range of information available on domestic violence cases to utilize these data to effectively address domestic violence against women in India.

Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.Harshni Slathia
Awarded certificate of Excellence
Authentication No: DE334943245414-15-1223

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