Living in a Quarantine of Violence

This is the second part in our series “Eliminating Violence against Women Who Use Drugs”, see the first part here.

The featured image on this article was sourced from the UN Women Social Media Trello. Find more images to share from this campaign here.

November 25th is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and marks the beginning of 16 days of activism against gender-based violence that will run until December 10th, which is the International Human Rights Day. Since the introduction of lockdown policies and stay-at-home orders, rates of reported domestic violence cases have been increasing all over the world – so much so that UN Women has dubbed this ‘The Shadow Pandemic.’ This year more than ever, it’s especially important to draw attention to the issue of violence against women and other forms of gender-based violence. 

More worrying is the contexts in which reports have decreased – being locked in the same house as an abuser does not give much opportunity to reach out for help. 

Sadly, living in a quarantine of violence is not an irregular or new experience for many women.

Violence against women is a pandemic that we’ve been battling for decades longer than the coronavirus, yet we are already much closer to finding the cure for the latter.

Women on the daily experience all kinds of violence just for being women. Physical, psychological, sexual violence, discrimination, and exploitation can present themselves at any level of women’s lives, be it within their intimate relationships, their families or their communities. It also comes, and not insignificantly, from states and their institutions.

Violence against women is systematically, socially and culturally embedded, and as such tends to be an intersectional cycle that it’s difficult to break away from. Being the victim of any kind of violence increases a woman’s likelihood to experience trauma later in life.

Drug using sex workers who are women not only face stigma and discrimination for being women, but also for being people who use drugs, and for being in sex work, all at the same time but also strangely separately. If they try to get help for violence experienced in ‘one of their contexts’, their chances of being denied that service due to the coexistence of her ‘other conditions’ is high.

Most shelters and services for women who have experienced domestic violence do not admit women who use drugs, or only admit them on the condition of abstinence. Facilities for people who use drugs, including harm reduction services, are often designed to fit the needs and using patterns of men, and rarely offer gender-responsive and trauma-informed services and treatment programs. Drug using sex workers are often excluded from entertainment venues due to their drug use, placing them into street settings and dangerous contexts – and they’re also assumed to always be on duty and ready to exchange sex for money or drugs. Sexual assault and rape cases they report to law enforcement easily go uninvestigated, and they are often assaulted and stigmatized by police and emergency services.

During this lockdown, people go through all kinds of psychological and emotional distress, like stress of isolation, loss of control as well as the possible or very real loss of economic security and housing security. Violence is often an outlet for these emotions, and violence is now confined to small and closed places where they can go unnoticed.

The increase in the prevalence of domestic violence against women needs to be talked about. But more specifically, in contexts where sex work is criminalized, sex workers are not eligible to receive economic support from the government and those of them who continue to work despite the heightened health risks are facing increased crackdowns by law enforcement. Baring in mind these increased crackdowns are occurring at a time when we also need to think about how vulnerable our prison population is.