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The other pandemic

Empower Wisconsin | Aug. 7, 2020 

By Cameron Hilditch, National Review 

Like the coronavirus, domestic violence has no respect for national borders, economic status, or social respectability. 

In fact, it’s striking to read of how similar the stories are in Midtown Manhattan, where the victims tend to be upper-middle class society women, and in the Nawuyo Village of Uganda, where 24-year-old Rahema Kyomuhendo found herself when the wave of global lockdowns in response to COVID-19 first made its presence felt in her life.

Rahema’s father, Sheikh Hussein Byaruhanga Husain, is a Muslim religious leader who decided to bring his daughter along with him on a 300-mile business trip from their home in Mbarara District to Nawuyo in early May. While staying with her aunt in Nawuyo, Rahema began to listen to a Christian radio station in order to pass the time. One evening, she phoned a Roman Catholic friend of her father’s to discuss what she was hearing in more depth. As Rahema later recalled to the Morning Star News:

She explained to me about Christ and the way of salvation, and I got convicted and accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. As she was sharing Christ with me, I was so overjoyed, and my father heard my joy and woke up, came from his bedroom furiously, and started beating me up with blows, slaps and kicks.

At this point, Rahema was trapped in Nawuyo on account of a shelter-in-place order instituted by the government to fight the pandemic. She had no way of returning home to the broader social network of family and friends who might have restrained her father’s violent impulses. She was stuck, and powerless to resist as he set her on fire. Amazingly, she survived the assault, albeit with horrific burns on her legs, stomach, ribs, neck, and lower back, and is now recovering in hospital.

Across the globe, women like Rahema have suffered at the hands of domestic abusers during this pandemic. In France, reported cases of domestic violence rose 30 percent from the time a lockdown was imposed March 17 to the beginning of April. Countries as varied as Argentina, Cyprus, and Singapore saw similarly significant increases in reports after imposing their own lockdowns. Where I live, in the U.K., 16 women and girls were killed in suspected domestic homicides during the first month of the lockdown in March, over three times the number who were killed during the same time span last year — and more have died in the months since. 

I was ashamed to discover while writing this piece that two of those women lived no more than a few miles away from me. Elizabeth Dobbin, age 82, was found dead in the home she shared with her 32-year-old grandson in Larne, Northern Ireland, on March 30. Emma Jane McParland, 39, was stabbed to death in her Belfast home on April 30, and her son has been charged with her murder. 

In spite of how close I live to where these ladies died, I didn’t hear about their murders when they happened, at the height of the lockdown. I imagine that their stories were buried under the daily body-count of COVID victims on the news, and that their bodies were buried in the presence of no more than ten people, each observing the proper social-distancing guidelines, of course.

The bottom line here is that the coronavirus has exacerbated certain (in some cases mutually reinforcing) social evils that are incidental to it and that will not vanish once a vaccine arrives. Domestic violence is one such evil, and the data we now possess on it should force us to recalibrate our pandemic-response efforts accordingly.

Read more at National Review.

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