The exacerbation of risk caused by the COVID-19 pandemic brought the need for social confinement and spread a “Stay at home” message throughout the world, thereby equating intimate space with an ideal of personal safety. However, for many people, mostly women, the fear of public space as a health risk coexists with (and even takes a back seat to) the fear of private space, where the ideal of intimacy and protection is corrupted by violence. The increase in reports of domestic violence in some countries during the lockdown period has caused social alarm and forced urgent measures to be taken, especially in terms of reinforcing victim support services. However, the indispensability of these measures should not prevent us from questioning the broader paradigm and from tackling, or at least seeking to be more responsive to, situations of violence in intimate relationships. The present pandemic moment shows that if we really wish to face up to this reality, it is not enough to adapt already existing responses and services to a virtual emergency context; a critical and feminist reflection is needed on the policies aimed at this type of violence. We must not forget that: (i) many of these women were already in a situation of social isolation; (ii) the pandemic only exacerbates a pre-existing context marked by violence-promoting precariousness and gender inequality in various spheres of our social life; (iii) women who are victims of violence tend to experience, at the same time, different forms of oppression and social control, since they are immersed in social contexts where patriarchy intersects with other power systems that weaken them, such as colonialism and capitalism.
What we have here, therefore, is the combination of a structural scenario that is actively produced by patriarchy and a conjunctural but emergency context that was caused by the pandemic and is likely to aggravate situations of abuse.
Contrary to what is being promised to the rest of us, the victims of violence do not look forward to the end of the pandemic as a return to normality, for which reason the measures to be taken in this area must also be directed at the conditions and processes that contribute to their daily vulnerability: (i) primary prevention must remain a priority; (ii) the measures must be empowering and allow the home to become a truly safe space, while efforts should be made to actively combat the notion – widely spread in society at large and the legal arena in particular – that women must leave home to escape violence; (iii) the measures must take into account the economic situation of women before and after the pandemic and strengthen their position in the labour market, valuing their multiple roles; (iv) an intersectional look at the causes and impacts of violence on women’s lives is also needed, as is currently being done with regard to the pandemic.
The current pandemic has been particularly severe for older women and women from lower social classes. But women who are immigrants, refugees, from ethnic and cultural minorities, of non-normative sexual orientation, among many others, are also on the margins of society. If this is worrying enough in contexts of social, political and economic peace, it is even more so at a critical time like the one we are currently experiencing.How to cite: Duarte, Madalena (2020), "Violence in intimate relationships", Words beyond the pandemic: a hundred-sided crisis. Consulted at 20.06.2021, in https://ces.uc.pt/publicacoes/palavras-pandemia/?lang=2&id=30502. ISBN: 978-989-8847-28-7