The shadow side of SA's second pandemic
New research shows that despite an expected increase, attacks on women may have gone down during lockdown
A new research project into what happened with regard to domestic violence in SA during lockdown has found that, despite an increase being expected and some initial hysteria over incorrect figures, attacks on women may have gone down.
While details and nuances of available information are not known, researcher Lisa Vetten has found that while the prevalence of attacks on women may not have changed dramatically, other factors have influenced the numbers and may be masking what actually took place in homes.
Vetten and Bernadine Bachar, director of the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children, have released the findings of research carried out into what was dubbed “the shadow pandemic”.
SA went into lockdown in response to the Covid-19 pandemic in March last year.
“In anticipation of increased cases of domestic violence, the government increased efforts to popularise its GBV helpline and declared shelters providing services to women and their children as an essential service. Early into the lockdown, the worst-case scenario appeared to be realised with politicians and the media reporting that domestic violence had in fact become a second pandemic,” Vetten said.
Her report, designed to review the available evidence for violence and reflect on the experiences of shelter staff and women in need of these services during lockdown, found that the increase in case reports was “modest rather than dramatic”, but there were many silent cases that went unreported and changes in other reports may have affected on perceived facts.
Vetten said one such example had been seen in the data recorded at Grey’s Hospital, which was detailed in terms of gender information.
“What this gender-aggregated data shows us is that during lockdown, viewing specifically incidents of blunt-force assaults and penetrating trauma or stabbings, there was a huge drop in the number of male victims during this time, while the figures relating to women did not change very much.
“Also, what we anticipated was based on experiences in Europe, where families tend to be nuclear. Here in SA about a third of households are extended families, and just over 40% are headed by women,” Vetten said, explaining how the South African scenario differed to other countries.
She said there were also barriers that blocked women from reporting or masked the numbers. These included:
- a lack of gender information;
- the many instances of police stations being closed for quarantining or decontamination; and
- a general prioritising of lockdown violations over normal policing.
“And what we did see, in the Western Cape for example, was the huge role played by alcohol. We saw there that within 48 hours of the booze ban being lifted, shelters in the province started filling up rapidly,” Bachar said.
The end findings are that what happened during lockdown was complicated and nuanced, with different things happening in areas across the country, rather than the same reality being a standard experience.
Vetten said more information was needed and better records kept.