No Escape for Victims


In Spain, with the help of women’s associations, The New York Times contacted women stuck at home with an abusive husband or partner and conducted interviews over WhatsApp.

One of them, Ana — who asked that her full name be withheld — shares an apartment with her partner, and says he has been regularly abusing her. He insists on total surveillance at all times. If she tries to lock herself in a room, he kicks the door until she opens it.

“I can’t even have privacy in the bathroom — and now I have to endure this in a lockdown,” she wrote in a message sent late at night, to hide the communication from her husband.

Judith Lewis Herman, a renowned trauma expert at Harvard University Medical School, has found that the coercive methods domestic abusers use to control their partners and children “bear an uncanny resemblance” to those kidnappers use to control hostages and repressive regimes use to break the will of political prisoners.

“The methods which enable one human being to control another are remarkably consistent,” she wrote in a widely cited 1992 journal article. “While perpetrators of organized political or sexual exploitation may instruct each other in coercive methods, perpetrators of domestic abuse appear to reinvent them.”

In addition to physical violence, which is not present in every abusive relationship, common tools of abuse include isolation from friends, family and employment; constant surveillance; strict, detailed rules for behavior; and restrictions on access to such basic necessities as food, clothing and sanitary facilities.

Home isolation, however vital to the fight against the pandemic, is giving still more power to the abuser, Dr. Hester said. “If suddenly people have got to be at home,” she said, “that gives him an opportunity, suddenly, to call the shots around that. To say what she should be doing or shouldn’t.”

The isolation has also shattered support networks, making it far more difficult for victims to get help or escape. To be continued.....


Excerpt from Amanda Taub9 from the NY Times)

Published April 6, 2020 Updated April 14, 2020

Reporting was contributed by Raphael Minder from Spain, Vivian Wang from Hong Kong, Constant Méheut from France and Elisabetta Povoledo from Italy.

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