Quarantine and Domestic Violence: Not an Isolated Event

by Sarah Hobbs and Mark Mikhailov

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TW: Domestic Violence

I’m not one to start ice – breakers with “lazy” but I always had a pension for eluding most responsibilities, hence an isolation order served only to reinforce my complacent nature.Most crises are inherently arbitrary to the ones not proximally affected, especially when the safest place to stay during its tenure is one’s own home – sanctuary. Now, I don’t live in the best area; raised to keep quiet because of the single brick walls, keep out of people’s business and if you must call the police, always ask to remain anonymous. So, I wasn’t vexed about a mandatory curfew.

Wasn’t too long until I downloaded that free Ableton trial, thinking my six years of grade school piano would help manifest my dream of a Spotify account crowning a couple commas worth of monthly listeners. That lasted just under a week. I nearly signed up for a free online Harvard course, but sucking shit at Ableton set a precedent – if Lil Pump dropped out, I had no chance. I even heard my neighbour downstairs pick up guitar, assimilating to our communally separated new lifestyle. Things were good, my safe space began to feel like it was in a safe place.

Once you’ve habituated to thin walls, there’s no going back. You listen to yourself more than you do the neighbours. We kept our voices down; refrained from talking about money; and if there was a word or topic that was sensitive, we’d use our native Russian tongue. Our family used Russian like code, conscious of the possibility of eavesdroppers. Probably a bit neurotic but the risk was too great. My neighbourhood is no gangland; addiction and assault are my postcodes vices. The last two generations of my family name were thankfully void of domestic abuse, thus my parents’ initial move to this code served as a rude introduction: it’s cold opening being the estranged couple upstairs.

Police officer families are up to four times as likely to experience domestic violence, with at least 40% of homes having experienced one or more forms of abuse¹. He was retired, I don’t know if they consider that in the statistic. It’d be wrong to say it didn’t happen often, considering once is already too much, but each time it happened we all heard it. Cops would be called the times it would be physical, but since then his verbal tirades and emotional abuse became far more commonplace. It took an instance during quarantine to realise just how grossly accustomed we were to what was going on.

That neighbour who was learning guitar was around 8. I never talked to the little dude, but we’d exchange platitudinal pleasantries with his parents each time our paths crossed. The kid killed Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, mastering it even before I figured out how to sync my keyboard to my Mac. Before the iso, their house was pretty quiet; on most days the mom would stay home and take care of the boy after he returned from school. The dad worked long hours and televised football heralded each of his returns. But this month took economic devastation to place our generation had yet to see. April’s worldwide job losses broke 22 million a couple of days ago², with that number expected to reach 25 million by the end of the month³. The sound of botched chords was replaced with the drone of chants and cheers as my neighbour became another statistic.

A study conducted on hospital patients in isolation found that their segregated state directly resulted in higher depression, anxiety and anger – hostility scores4. Kubrick too, albeit un-empirical, captured the essence of isolation: all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. With such quarantine measures, a matter of fact is often overlooked – the foundation of domestic violence is built on isolation, monitoring and coercive control5. It was out of place for the couple downstairs to argue, stranger still, fight. We refrain from calling the cops up until we hear cries. We heard attempts at reason, and we heard tears, but the direct pleas evolved into wails for help. It was from the kid.

When we could hear the boy, a primordial protective instinct took a hold. I was ashamed that the same feeling wasn’t triggered with the woman upstairs. It’s as if I’d been conditioned to hear it; not expecting it, yet subconsciously apathetic to its prevalence. COVID-19 is responsible for tripling China’s usual February domestic violence cases6; Spain saw 18% more calls than the previous month to an abuse helpline since the isolation period7; and France found helpline email contact to rise by 286%7. The rapid rate of growth domestic violence has seen during the past few months is repugnant, criminal and unacceptable, yet this is no new behaviour. Prior to the outbreak, 1 in 3 women would have experienced some form of domestic violence8; an estimated 1 billion children between the ages of 2-17 have experienced a form of child abuse in only the past year9; and the all too silent statistic of male domestic abuse victims finds 2 of 5 all domestic abuse victims to be men10.

You don’t need to be bilingual to have a code; in France and Spain, anyone can enter a pharmacy and say “mask-19”: an inexplicit indication that they are experiencing domestic violence and can’t talk openly11. There are new measures being introduced in an attempt to halt the abusive epidemic, and hopefully a spotlight on this worrying statistic could help reduce its numbers in the future to come.

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