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You are not alone: silent solutions for survivors of domestic violence during quarantine

11 May 2020

When Oleksandra* turned for help to the mobile team in Vyshneve, Kyiv Oblast, for the first time, her emotional condition raised serious concerns of psychologists. She experienced symptoms of depression, did not know what to do and how to live on. But she was aware of the need for help because her mood affected her children. Together with 12-year-old Vadym* and 8-year-old Katya* the woman lives in the same apartment with her ex-husband Maksym* and suffers from constant harassment, humiliation, and beatings by him. Ex-spouses conduct a «quiet» war: Maksym sometimes plays mean tricks on ex-woman secretly from children. For example, he can lock her in the room and pick up the keys. Earlier she could escape from it to friends or parents, but during quarantine, she has to endure constant staying in the same territory with the abuser that led to a severe worsening situation. UNFPA Ukraine mobile team’s staff advise the woman in Viber for security reasons, as Maksym eavesdrops and tries to control his ex-wife.

«We follow a client. If she prefers online communication, we will communicate in such way», tells us Tetyana Franchuk, a psychologist and coordinator of social and psychological assistance mobile team in Vyshneve.

The mobile team in Vyshneve takes service of two cities - Vyshneve and Boyarka, as well as about 30 villages around. After quarantine introduction, mobile workers continue to provide social and psychological assistance via Skype, Viber, Zoom, and telephone. Tetyana Franchuk says that they had to get used to working at new platforms and adapt counseling techniques to the online format under the new circumstances.

«During the first week of quarantine, it seemed that our clients took a break, although we informed them about the opportunity to work remotely. When it was clear that this situation has become prolonged, but the need for help has increased, they’ve started to initiate online-consultations. Now some clients even tell us that this way of work is more suitable for them than visiting us. And they want to continue in such way even after quarantine end», says Franchuk.

Six mobile psychosocial teams working under the UNFPA Ukraine program with the support of the United Kingdom Government continue to assist ATO/OOS participants and their families in Kyiv and Mykolaiv oblasts. Find their contacts here.

Help for everyone

Despite the fact, that since 2019 the mobile psychosocial team in Vyshneve has been focused on work with Donbas war veterans and their families, anyone can turn for help during the quarantine. According to UNFPA, the number of appeals from new clients has almost doubled amid quarantine restrictions.

«We could track that some of the people, whom we helped in 2017-2018, are calling us again. Many questions are related to job losses, also there are requests for one-time financial assistance. We cooperate with volunteers who provide humanitarian aid, that’s why we reroute our needy clients to them for food kits. But the primary issue is psychological domestic violence. Moreover, the number of appeals about physical violence is growing rapidly», says Tetyana Franchuk. 

According to Franchuk, domestic violence cases take place in families that have already been consulted and trained in how to behave at a critical moment, as well as in families seeking the team’s help for the first time.

She says that those techniques and coping strategies that clients applied before quarantine are irrelevant during the lockdown. 

«With clients who committed domestic violence, we developed individual strategies, security plans. They were taught how to cope with anger. But if the lifestyle changes, these strategies, skills, and techniques also need changes. We record a wave of re-appeals», tells us the psychologist. 

Moreover, as Tetyana notes, the number of domestic violence cases in veterans' families during the self-isolation period has not increased.

Pre-exposure counseling is conducted via telephone, while all scheduled consultations - via Zoom and Skype. But if an extraordinary situation happens, the mobile team goes to such families despite quarantine. 

«Recently, we experienced a critical case when we had to intervene in the situation physically, - tells us psychologist Franchuk. A daughter of Donbas war veteran turned to us for help before lockdown. Her father was heavily wounded and demobilized in 2016. He had alcohol abuse and under its influence behaved inadequately - quarreled at home, could set fire to the curtains, drive out his relatives, and put hands on his elderly mother. He refused assistance and rehabilitation for a long time, attempted suicide several times. The situation has worsened amid the quarantine. Finally, after his daughter's persuasion and psychological counseling, he realized the need for help and agreed to the rehabilitation that is underway now. Our fellow specialist, who also experienced war, keeps in touch with him and together with the employment center is looking for a job for this veteran. So that he will not have too much time and opportunities to communicate with people with risky behavior and drink».

The number of appeals from men started to grow right after the inclusion of the specialist with combat experience to the team. And this increase is recorded every month.

Abusers’ appeals

According to Alyona Kryvulyak, a head of hotlines department of NGO “La Strada Ukraine”, national domestic violence hotline received 3671 appeals during the 1,5 months of quarantine. 4% of the whole number came from abusers. 

«Of course, it is a minor number, but we are proud of it. Because before quarantine introduction it was even smaller - no more than 2% of all calls. Most of the men who call are willing to talk to a psychologist. We immediately evaluate the environment via phone and teach the abusers how to express excessive emotions so as not to harm relatives and themselves. We advise to do sport, come up with different activities available during the lockdown. But first of all, we inform them about the responsibility provided by the Ukrainian legislation in case of domestic violence. Some people believe that it is intimidation, but it is not. All this is about the abuser's awareness of the mechanisms for combating domestic violence and the consequences of committing it», tells us Kryvulyak. 

There are no significant changes in the statistics of men survivors’ appeals to the hotline during the quarantine. Such cases make up no more than 15% of the whole number appeals. According to Alyona Kryvulyak, they receive calls from men mostly older than 60 years, who suffer from abuse from their adult children and grandchildren. 

«Unfortunately, we can state that it is a huge issue. Unemployed children or grandchildren who either have been laid off or furloughed amid lockdown still need money. So they decide to terrorize their grandfather or father to take away a pension or financial state social aid. Mostly, such situations involve physical, psychological and economic violence», says the head of the hotlines department.

Taking into account the fact that it is harder to make a phone call during quarantine, «La Strada» has developed online-consulting, providing counseling via Skype, email, Messenger and online appeals service on the organization's website. Soon, according to Kryvulyak, the Telegram channel also will be launched. During April, 16% of appeals were online as ‘silent solutions’ for gender-based violence survivors. Most of the online appeals come via Facebook Messenger and relate to committing different types of violence. 

A 24-hours operating of the hotline is supported by the UK government within UNFPA Ukraine programme.

#TakeActionAgainstViolence

To ease the way of turning for help, the Interior Ministry and National Police of Ukraine have launched a Telegram chatbot “Take Action Against Violence”.

The main purpose of the chatbot is to inform the population about what violence constitutes, its main types, and chatbot also gives answers to the most common questions. It provides the opportunity to communicate with state legal aid workers online. When needed, they transfer information to law enforcement agencies about the demand to call police at a specific address. Also, according to Kateryna Pavlichenko, a deputy Interior Minister, the chatbot allows accumulating all the useful contacts in the case of domestic violence in one place.

Inclusive assistance

Alyona Kryvulyak, the head of the hotlines department, recalls a case when a deaf boy with speech defects appeals to the national children’s hotline. 

«We were counseling him via Instagram, he suffered violence from parents. Even though we were communicating online, we could get all the needed information to appeal to the Children’s Service. But in general, appeals from people with disabilities are rare», says Kryvulyak. 

Communication via close people

Often happens, when relatives, friends, neighbors apply to the hotline for help instead of a survivor. According to Alyona Kryvulyak, the operators encourage close people to respond in such cases.

«It is vital to break the silence and to call 102. If a survivor left an abuser and asks you to help, it is worth to shelter her, provide support to make her understand that she is not left alone with trouble. It is essential to have an emotionally stable person nearby that can take control of the situation. If there is no opportunity to provide housing, you can help with contacts of various services, daycare centers, and hotlines», tells us Kryvulyak. 

Notably, 8 from 9 UNFPA shelters continue operating. The shelter in Mariupol, following local authorities' decision, temporarily suspended taking care of new clients. Now before placing the victim in the shelter, she is taken to a doctor for a conclusion about the absence of symptoms of SARS. All 5 daycare centers have been providing online assistance.

A service of legal consulting has also launched its Telegram-channel «Legal assistance in countering domestic violence». So now domestic violence victims and witnesses can get legal advice to protect their rights online.

It is also important to urge people to pay attention to changes in the behavior of their close and take an interest in the environment at home.

«If you suspect domestic violence committed in the family of your friends or relatives, please, do not ignore it. Evaluate the environment during a telephone conversation, listen to sounds around. Communicate more by phone, or at least online, ask them what’s up, what is going on, what's new. Ask such questions that help the victim to realize that she can rely on you in an emergency», advises Kryvulyak. 

If you notice that your talker behaves atypically, for example, she is afraid to tell about the family, does not talk about herself, these are indications that the person "needs help and the situation is not friendly".

“If you identify something, respond! A survivor could just be afraid to ask for help because of fear of being shunned. So the main thing is to stay humane - do not turn away, do not blame and just to be near», says an expert. 

 

*Names changed to for privacy and protection