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The rise of 'corona divorce' amid Japan’s domestic violence shadow pandemic

5 Comments
By Suki Chung

The pandemic was a kiss of death to my friend’s already troubled marriage. When her abusive and controlling husband had to work from home in April and May during the COVID-19 national emergency, she was forced to spend long hours with him in their home in Kanagawa Prefecture. 

“I’ve had enough,” she told me crying, after he’d kicked her in the leg and back during an argument over shrinking family income. She said she was not brave enough to end the relationship, but believed that easing lockdown measures would bring society and her family back to normal. 

But what is normal? 

Prior to COVID-19, the number of women contacting domestic violence services in Japan had been on the rise for 16 consecutive years, reaching an all-time high in 2019. With people confined to their homes under the pandemic in the last few months, many more women reached out for help. 

Over 13,000 women reported that they experienced domestic violence in April alone, which is 1.3 times higher than in the same period last year. Like all statistics on domestic violence, however, incidences can be vastly under-reported, especially because seeking help for "family matters" is still a taboo in Japanese society.

In April, a famous Japanese actor, Makoto Sakamoto, was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence. He allegedly assaulted his wife and her mother in their Tokyo home. In May, Japanese TV martial artist Bobby Olugun made headlines after he was arrested for punching his wife in the face at their residence, reportedly in front of their three children.

The executive director of UN Women  has described the global and sudden upsurge of violence against women triggered by the coronavirus lockdown as the 'shadow pandemic'.

Millions of women worldwide have reported domestic abuse this year. In Asian countries and territories, such as Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea, gender-based violence and social and economic inequalities faced by women are among the most severe consequences of COVID-19. 

In Hong Kong, the city I call home, a local women’s hotline received twice the number of calls on domestic violence during the beginning of the pandemic (January to March). Over 70% are cases of physical abuse, with the rest mainly emotional and verbal. 

In April, a social worker in Japan launched an online petition. More than 30,000 people supported calling on the governor of Tokyo to establish emergency shelters for homeless people and those fleeing domestic abuse during the pandemic.  

A new term “corona divorce” (コロナ離婚) is now commonly used on Japanese social media to describe the spike in divorce and grievances of couples during the confinement period. 

It is, however, not simply the case of the virus causing divorces. The pandemic has exposed the deep-rooted problem of gender inequality in our societies, including income disparity, uneven political and socio-economic representation, and harmful cultural and social stereotypes. Women and girls, for example, are often hit the hardest in this health crisis, as evident in U.S. employment figures showing that millions of women have lost their jobs at a higher rate than men.

In recent years, advocacy for women’s rights in East Asia was boosted by the global #MeToo movement, with brave women going public in high-profile cases of sexual abuse, such as Seo Ji-Hyun in South Korea and Shiori Ito in Japan. There have been more positive examples of women change-makers in the region and more discussions around sexism and violence against women. 

Despite such positive developments, the current health crisis reminds us how much still needs to be done. While women and girls are stepping up to lead, supporting each other and helping their broader communities, governments have an obligation to do more to put women at the centre of decision-making so that they can finally reinvent this broken system.

The vaccine for COVID-19 may still be unknown, but the solution to the "shadow pandemic" is clear: We need gender equality to be at the heart of building a safer future for all of us.

The author is an East Asia campaigner at Amnesty International.

© Japan Today

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

5 Comments
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Cowardly bastards.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Some people really are not meant to be together.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Is there a helpline for MEN who are verbally, mentally abused by their spouses? Men can be victims, too. Speaking from personal experience.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

@Hervé L'Eisa

In Hong Kong, you mean? That is the only mention in the article of emergency contact numbers for victims of domestic violence.

In Japan, there are a couple of helplines available for foreign residents:

the service will also become available in at least eight foreign languages, including English and Chinese.

For the time being, the new nationwide telephone consultation service will be available from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at (0120) 279-889, and will become an around-the-clock service from April 29. The service will be entrusted to a private operator, and calls will be handled by consultants.

As some people may be in situations where making telephone calls is difficult, consultations can be sought also via social media.

TELL JP has some useful advice, information and links:

To call and speak to someone at TELL: (03 5774 0992) 

Resources

House in Emergency of Love and Peace (HELP): 03-3368-8855

Yorisoi Hotline: 0120-279-338

Support House Jomu: 03-3320-5307

Asian Women’s Center: 092-513-7333

Pathways to Safety (For US citizens only)

DV Soudan Navi (in Japanese only): 0570-0-55210

Information and Counseling for Foreign Residents (in Japanese)

Counseling Center for Women: 090-8001-4659

(From their website: https://telljp.com/lifeline/tell-chat/homepage/resources/domestic-violence-2/ )

All the above can be found online quite easily, and if you are competent in Japanese, you can no doubt find much more information. Nobody deserves to, and nobody should have to suffer abuse and violence from a partner.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Some people really are not meant to be together.

I take issue with this, as it suggests domestic violence is a matter of incompatibility, and that both people are at fault for one of them being violent. This is not the case.

The abusive person will be abusive no matter who their partner is, and it can be very hard to recognise that a pattern of abuse is developing until you are in the middle of it.

Domestic abuse includes creating a situation where the victim is doubted by those around them, is financially controlled and unable to escape, and/or is in fear for their and their loved ones' safety.

Domestic abusers are controlling,narcissistic, manipulative gaslighters, liars who know exactly what they are doing, and if you find yourself with such a person, you have to understand that it's not your fault. You have done nothing to deserve this life. They are abusers and their goal is to control you to within an inch of your life.

When they say they're sorry and they won't do it again? That's not true. They will repeat and escalate their behaviour. Seek help, find out what you can do to get away.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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