By Denise Yan
As the new year begins, 2021 marks a soon-to-be full year since the Coronavirus pandemic was introduced to the world. COVID-19 first started to spread in the US around late January to early February––the consequences that came with the pandemic are boundless.
With such a drastic change in the functionality of the world, both economically and socially, changes in women’s safety are also becoming more relevant.
In the current climate, it’s absolutely critical to discuss the subject of how the pandemic is affecting women; does staying home during the lockdown alter their safety? Furthermore, do limited access to services put them in danger? Or does having less amount of people walking in public provide a safer feeling? Now more than ever, it is important to distinguish that different women’s perception of “being safe” varies immensely depending on their own situation and backgrounds.
In 2019, prior to the pandemic, there was an estimated amount of 139,815 rapes in the US according to the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program. In a positive turn on events, amid the first six months of 2020 (where cases were rapidly rising), the number of rape cases decreased by 17.8%. Although this is a very powerful result of the virus, this topic of discussion branches out even further. As hospitals began to overcrowd with more and more patients infected with the virus, it becomes more and more of an obstacle for sexual violence victims to obtain the help they need (e.g. rape kits, etc.). As of Dec. 2020, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that there has been an exceeding number of hospitals in the south with occupancy rates over 100%. For these reasons, women often take safety measures (pepper spray, nail files, cell phone applications) when leaving their homes.
But, what does this mean for women when they are in their homes? The sudden lockdown is more than just staying inside and wearing masks; it also indicates that jobs and opportunities are lost for many individuals, and the consequences can be extreme. Economically, unemployment levels have fluctuated greatly as a result of the pandemic; not only are more families struggling financially, this is an immense issue regarding safety at home. To illustrate the severity of this dilemma, a September 2020 survey conducted in Australia shows that 83.63% of the female victims surveyed had experienced financial abuse–– which means that their abusers are using verbal or physical means (including psychological abuse and gaslighting) to blame or control the victim based on their financial position. Under the current circumstances of the economy, communities will begin to expect more lockdowns, which will further endanger these women at home.
The conversation about women’s safety does not end there–– there are substantial amounts of cases where women have experienced harassment during work. To put into perspective the size of the numbers, the Department of Defense’s FY19 report revealed that the US military had 7,825 reports of sexual assault–– be perceptive that this category of crime is wildly underreported. 81% of the victims were women, however, this statistic comes from the 4,834 cases that were investigated out of the reported total.
Fortunately, not only is the DOD calling attention to the mass amounts of cases, but the department is also taking measures to ensure support even in the time of the pandemic. DOD’s Aug. 19, 2020 release highlights their urge to help sexual assault victims through the COVID-19 crisis. This report features their new electronic forms that take the place of meeting face to face with a service member amid the pandemic. Additionally, the DOD also calls attention to their 24-hour helpline that they guarantee will give “uninterrupted timely, professional, and quality assistance.” With this positive turn of events, it was evident that women’s occupational safety was a growing topic of discussion throughout the various events of 2020, and becoming more relevant and crucial in the new year.
With no doubt, COVID-19 brought in many pros and cons. As countries are beginning to have access to vaccines, society will begin to find their footing again. When diving into the first few months of 2021, it is crucial that humanity enters with the awareness of last year’s increase in female domestic abuse victims. Additionally, 2020’s decreased rape percentages and increase of support for these sexual violence victims will ultimately pave the way for further improvements in the new year. On that account, these demographics lead to the question of whether more women are looking forward to approaching a post-virus world and returning to pre-corona norms, or if 2020 provided a better sense of security for women in the era of the Coronavirus. Lastly, these facts should be used to comprehend that women’s safety is not all about sexual violence, but rather, it’s more focused on the feeling of safety itself.
Published on January 8, 2021.