The Shadow Pandemic: Increase of sexual abuse during lockdown

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There is a Shadow Pandemic that has emerged in the last 18 months that has gone side by side with the pandemic we all know. This is the scourge of increased domestic violence and sexual assault during lockdowns, including child sexual abuse. Here’s what we know and what we need to do to combat it.

Trigger warning: domestic violence and child sexual abuse

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, emerging data and reports from those on the front lines have shown that all types of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, has intensified.

This is the Shadow Pandemic growing amidst the COVID-19 crisis and we need a collective effort to stop it.

As COVID-19 cases continue to strain health services, essential services, such as domestic violence shelters and helplines, have reached capacity in many parts of the country and the world. 

This increase has been reasonably well documented. UN Women, for instance, documents that calls to helplines have increased five-fold in some countries as rates of reported intimate partner violence increase because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Restricted movement, social isolation, and economic insecurity are increasing women’s vulnerability to violence in the home around the world.

By September 2020, 52 countries had integrated prevention and response to violence against women and girls into COVID-19 response plans, and 121 countries had adopted measures to strengthen services for women survivors of violence during the global crisis, but more efforts are urgently needed.

While violence against women in a domestic context is horrifying and unacceptable at any time, there has been a recent emergence of another phenomenon and its better documentation: increased child abuse. 

In the most recent round of lockdowns, horrifying reports have emerged of child sexual abuse increasing as well.

Figures have shown that family members are the most common perpetrators of sexual violence against children.

Recent statistics released by counselling service Kids Helpline compiled before the most recent lockdowns in Sydney, Victoria and Queensland also suggest more parents than ever are abusing their kids while they are cloistered in their homes during the pandemic.

The number of calls made to Kids Helpline about sexual abuse in the home increased by 49 per cent nationally between January and the end of June this year, when compared to the same time last year.

The spike saw a total of 662 calls made by children and young people raising the issue of being sexually exploited by family members, 210 more than 12 months ago.

The trend was most pronounced in Victoria, which has seen six lockdowns. 

There, reports of sexual abuse in the home to Kids Helpline soared by 70 percent. In NSW, the increase was 49 percent, and in Queensland 30 percent.

Kids Helpline CEO Tracy Adams described the increase as “a pandemic within a pandemic”.

Those involved in children’s care and fighting child sexual abuse are concerned that many kids don’t have the language or education to express themselves, and often don’t even realise that what they’re experiencing, particularly with intra-familial sexual abuse.

In this year’s federal budget, $146 million was allocated over four years for a National Strategy to prevent Child Sexual Abuse, a key recommendation stemming from the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse. 

This particular problem is not limited to broader society. Our Muslim community is not immune from it, and we know from extensive anecdotal evidence that Muslim households are also subject to it. 

Any form of harassment or abuse (sexual or otherwise) is unacceptable from the Islamic perspective. The responsibility of parents and carers to nurture children with the utmost of love and mercy is too well known in our religion. 

If you are aware of children being abused, it is your responsibility to do something while doing so circumspectly. We encourage you to contact authorities if you are sure that a child is being sexually, physically or otherwise abused during lockdown. 

Where you have suspicion, you should err on the side of raising the issue with someone in a position to do something more – whether that be a person in the family of the alleged perpetrator or otherwise (each situation is different and it is impossible to give prescriptive advice). 

For children or youth going through any form of abuse, the Kids Helpline is a fantastic resource with trained professionals able to discuss and advise. 

If you know a child going through abuse, directing them to this Helpline is a responsible and necessary step. 

The Kids Helpline number: 1800 55 1800

The MWA is also here to support the community in these challenging times. Whether it be with child sexual abuse, sexual or domestic abuse generally, please get in touch with us if you want our help on these sensitive matters. Please get in touch with us via or 02 9750 6916.

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