By Sumitra Visvanathan
LAST year, following the first movement control order (MCO), domestic violence concerns increased significantly. Enquiries to Women’s Aid Organisation’s (WAO) phone and messaging hotline increased four-fold.
Yet for almost a month into the MCO, we didn’t see any policy direction or clarity from the government on how survivors could seek for help amid increased uncertainty.
This time, we can’t let this happen. We must immediately put in place steps to prevent and protect against domestic violence. The government must act to ensure we keep women and children safe in their own homes.
Our message to Government:
A clear policy on domestic violence
Ensure there is a clear policy on domestic violence response during the MCO. During the first MCO, there was no clear policy on domestic violence response. As a result, there was confusion at the ground level. For example, some domestic violence survivors who left the house to get help were asked to go home by the police. Some were not clear if they were still able to apply for emergency and interim protection orders. This time, the Government needs to have a clear policy, and communicate that policy to frontliners and the public.
Issue strong messages on domestic violence
Issue strong messages on domestic violence – including through daily press briefings, and mass SMS to the public. Public service announcements on domestic violence work. In April 2020, Talian Kasih 15999 calls on domestic violence and child abuse quadrupled – after Talian Kasih 15999 and domestic violence support were highlighted by Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri during his daily briefings, and by an SMS sent by the National Security Council to the public.
Allocate adequate resources
Allocate adequate resources to domestic violence response during this MCO – including for frontliners, hotlines, and shelters. During the first MCO, insufficient resources were allocated to domestic violence response. As an example, Talian Kasih’s WhatsApp line was overwhelmed, with some survivors receiving responses days or weeks later. Domestic violence must be seen as a priority, integral in the larger health and welfare response. Domestic violence is a pandemic within a pandemic.
Create a National Plan of Action
Create a National Plan of Action on Domestic Violence, including emergency response. We’ll likely see variations of movement control orders in the coming year. Responding to domestic violence should not be done ad hoc. The government should formulate a plan of action, which specifically deals with responding during pandemics and lockdowns. This can be coordinated by the National Committee on Responding to Domestic Violence, which is led by the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development.
Our message to the public:
- If you are experiencing domestic violence, you can contact Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) at our Hotline at 03 7956 3488 or WhatsApp/SMS 018 9888 058. Our services are 24-hours, free, and confidential.
- If you are experiencing domestic violence, you can get protection and support during the MCO. You can make a police report, get a protection order, and seek medical care. If you are trapped, you can contact the police at 999 to help you. – Jan 14, 2021
Sumitra Visvanathan is the executive director of Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO).
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.