PUTRA 101: Increasing Domestic Violence During COVID-19 #StayAtHome

As many as 90 countries with cumulatively 4 billion earthlings are temporarily prevented from leaving their homes to shield themselves from the global COVID-19 contagious disease and subsequently, halting the spread of the contagion. 

Unfortunately, a frightfully lethal peril still could enter or has long entered and bred in one’s abode way before the quarantines take effect, which is the “intimate terrorism” – this term is commonly known as domestic violence, though experts are more inclined to use the former term. 

This shadow pandemic of “Violence Against Women” (VAW) is growing and impersonating an opportunistic infection, as it flourishes in the circumstances effectuated by the pandemic. Sadly, Malaysia is no exception to both of these pandemics.

First and foremost, what does the term “intimate terrorism” mean? According to Women’s Aid, it is an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence, in the majority of cases by a partner or former partner, but also by a family member or carer”. The non exhaustive forms of domestic abuse are as follows:

  • Coercive control (a pattern of intimidation, degradation, isolation and control with the use or threat of physical or sexual violence)
  • Psychological and/or emotional abuse
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Financial or economic abuse
  • Harassment and stalking
  • Online or digital abuse

The definition of domestic violence provided by Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) is in line with the definition mentioned above, with additional substance where the purpose of domestic violence is “to control or maintain power over a partner who is or has been in an intimate relationship”. 

Domestic violence is essentially about the power and control wheel which was unfolded by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs (DAIP). The power and control wheel portrays that domestic violence is a behavioural pattern. 

Further, it also shows how abusers may use different tactics to manifest power and control. As stated by Judith Lewis Herman, a trauma expert at Harvard University Medical School, the coercive methods which the 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, as the methods which enable human beings to control others are remarkably coherent. 

In addition, she also mentioned that “while perpetrators of organized political or sexual exploitation may instruct each other in coercive methods, perpetrators of domestic abuse appear to reinvent them.”

Moreover, the Domestic Violence Act 1994 states an extensive interpretation of “domestic violence” – where it carries the meaning of committing one or more of the following acts:

  • Placing or attempting to place the victim in fear of physical injury
  • Causing physical injury to the victim
  • Compelling the victim to engage in any acts
  • Confining or detaining the victim against the victim’s will
  • Destructing or damaging property to cause distress to the victim

For more acts stated under the Domestic Violence Act 1994 please refer to the link (here).

Marianne Hester, a sociologist from Bristol University, who studies abusive relationships, attested that there is every ground to believe that the conditions imposed to keep the contagion from spreading would have such an effect, as the rate of domestic violence cases increases when the amount of time spent with families increases

Moreover, Tan Heang-Lee, WAO Advocacy and Communications Officer explained that during the Movement Control Order (MCO), living in isolation and a household’s concerns over health and finances can further aggravate an abuser’s desire to exert his dominance. 

Following the MCO, Malaysia has witnessed an abrupt sharp increase in the number of domestic violence cases, which was founded upon data collected from the Women and Family Development Ministry and NGOs attending to domestic violence cases. 

The Talian Kasih hotline has seen a 57% increase or 1,893 calls from women in distress and domestic violence was one of the issues voiced out by them. Karen Lai Yu Lee, Women’s Centre for Change (WCC) programme director, expressed that due to mounting economic, social and psychological pressure on families and communities, WCC received 14 phone calls in the first week of the MCO but the digit increased to 36 cases in the second week. There were about fourteen cases related to domestic abuse.

The increase in the number of domestic violence cases reported to the hotlines indicates a positive trend, as it proves that more women are aware of their rights and dare to come forward to seek help. WAO believes that the effective public service announcements (PSA) by the National Security Council encourage the domestic abuse survivors to make these reports. 

The Talian Kasih 15999 April statistics above show that following the PSAs, more survivors are reaching out for help. According to research conducted by Columbia University scholars, women show “more willingness to take complaints to the police and become more sanguine that their allegations will be believed rather than denounced” when exposed to assuring media messages.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has provided a guidance note regarding the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and COVID-19, and Malaysia is one of the States parties to this convention. Among the matters raised in the note is the protection of women and girls from gender-based violence. 

States parties have a due diligence obligation to prevent and protect women from and hold perpetrators accountable for gender-based violence against women. National response plans to COVID-19 should prioritize the availability of safe shelters, hotlines and remote psychological counselling services and inclusive and accessible specialised and effective security systems, including in rural communities, and address women’s mental health issues, which stem from violence, social isolation and related depression. As for now, Malaysia is only providing hotlines psychological counselling services.

At PUTRA, we are deeply concerned about the heightened risks of gender-based violence and discrimination faced by women due to the current COVID-19 crisis and believe it is an obligation to protect women from and ensure accountability for gender-based violence. We call on Malaysia to uphold the rights of women and girls. Efforts by the government, especially the Women and Family Development Ministry, has to be focused on dealing with this deadly issue. After all, nobody wants to #DudukRumahDiamDiam when it is unsafe and dangerous for them to do so. Until then, remember to wash your hands and obey the MCO! #KitaMestiMenang if #KitaJagaKita.

This piece is written by Nabilah AskandarResearch Associate at PUTRA.


  1. C., J., S, K. and C., J., 2020. Covid-19 Lockdown Increases Domestic Violence In Malaysia – The Asian Affairs. [online] The Asian Affairs. Available at: https://www.theasianaffairs.com/malaysia/2020/04/22/covid-19-lockdown-increases-domestic-violence-in-malaysia/  [Accessed 1 May 2020].
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  7. Nazari, T. 2020. Domestic Violence Rates In Malaysia Increase Under MCO | TRP. [online] TRP. Available at: https://www.therakyatpost.com/2020/04/03/domestic-violence-rates-in-malaysia-increase-under-mco/ [Accessed 1 May 2020].
  8. Ohchr.org. 2020. OHCHR | Committee On The Elimination Of Discrimination Against Women. [online] Available at: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/CEDAW/Pages/CEDAWIndex.aspx [Accessed 1 May 2020].
  9. Taub, A., 2020. A New Covid-19 Crisis: Domestic Abuse Rises Worldwide. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/06/world/coronavirus-domestic-violence.html [Accessed 1 May 2020].
  10. Women’s Aid Organisation. 2020. Government Public Service Announcement Is Working, WAO Urges Strong, Consistent Messaging On Avenues For Help For Domestic Violence Survivors – Women’s Aid Organisation. [online] Available at: https://wao.org.my/government-public-service-announcement-is-working-wao-urges-strong-consistent-messaging-on-avenues-for-help-for-domestic-violence-survivors/ [Accessed 1 May 2020].
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