Abusers using Covid-19 as excuse to further torment domestic violence victims
Aware reports surge in calls for help while the police see 22 per cent jump in reports during circuit breaker
Though they live apart, her partner would get angry when she wanted to go to work, claiming that she might become infected with Covid-19 and spread it to him.
In another case, an abuser refused to let his partner go for counselling by also telling her she could catch the virus.
These are just two examples of how abusers are using the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to exert more control over their victims, said Aware head of research and advocacy Shailey Hingorani.
While such controlling behaviours are not unusual in domestic violence, some abusers see the circuit breaker measures as an opportunity to further isolate and torment their victims.
The abusers may impose curfew hours or prevent their victims from working or communicating digitally with the world by restricting access to their personal devices and monitoring their e-mail and text messages.
Ms Hingorani told The New Paper: "Home isolation, which is crucial in our fight against coronavirus, is giving abusers the power to be more abusive as they can now dictate what behaviours are permissible."
She added that a caller to the Aware helpline reported that her husband damaged her computer so she was unable to work from home.
"These acts of abuse may happen even before Covid-19, but the consequences are much more severe during this period as many of us rely on technology more than before to communicate with the outside world," Ms Hingorani said.
"These controlling behaviours may not leave visible scars, but emotional and psychological abuse can be as traumatic as physical harm."
The gender equality advocacy group said it has had 125 calls pertaining to family violence in April alone, a 112 per cent increase from the same period last year.
Ms Hingorani expects figures to continue to rise as restrictions remain in place and usual avenues of respite, such as work or friends' homes, are no longer available to victims, forcing them to experience abuse throughout the day.
STUCK AT HOME
Despite the surge in calls for help, Aware suspects there could be more victims who are unable to seek help because they are often stuck at home with their abusers as a result of the stay-home measures.
There have been several incidents of callers who hang up mid-call when their abusers are nearby.
Ms Hingorani said: "We have had callers whispering on the phone and telling us that the line may be cut any time.
"Midway through the call, there would be raised voices in the background and the call would suddenly be disconnected."
Aware launched a text messaging service last Friday to support those who may not be able to call the helplines for fear of being overheard by their abusers.
Countries around the world have also reported a spike in domestic violence as more people are forced to stay home to combat the pandemic.
In a separate statement yesterday, the police said that since the start of the circuit breaker, there has been a 22 per cent jump in the number of reports related to family violence.
From April 7 to May 6, 476 police reports were filed for offences commonly associated with family violence, such as hurt, criminal force and assault, criminal intimidation and wrongful confinement, compared with a monthly average of 389 such cases before the circuit breaker period.
Currently, the police refer victims of family violence to avenues such as crisis shelters funded by the Ministry of Social and Family Development if the victim requests shelter.
The police said: "To enhance protection, the police will help such victims even if they do not make any request for assistance or shelter."
Those who are at higher risk of encountering further family violence will be referred to social service agencies, and the police will also check in on them within the first week of the police report.
Ms Sun Xueling, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs, has expressed concern at the increasing number of family violence incidents.
She said: "We need to keep the victims of family violence on our radar and ensure that harm does not happen to them again.
"We also appeal to the community to help keep a lookout for signs of family violence and to report their suspicions so that help can be rendered to the victim as soon as possible.
"The simple act of reporting can help save someone's life or prevent further suffering."
Family Violence Specialist Centres - Pave: 6555-0390
Care Corner: 6476-1482
Trans Safe Centre: 6449-9088
Aware - Women's Helpline: 1800-777-5555
Sexual Assault Care Centre: 6779-0282
Family Justice Court: 6435-5398
Sinda's Family Service Centre: 1800-295-3333
Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444
Child Protective Service: 1800-777-0000
Big Love Child Protection Specialist Centre: 6445-0400
Heart @ Fei Yue Child Protection Specialist Centre: 6819-9170
National Care Hotline: 1800-202-6868