I have listened to the heartbreaking stories of so many victims over the years in my role as the Commonwealth Secretary-General. They are often asked: “Why did you not leave?” While it may appear that they have a choice to do so, the path to freedom is precarious. Besides physical, emotional and financial abuse, perpetrators often use coercive tactics to control behavior, isolating victims from family and friends, enforcing restrictions on basic necessities and threatening harm if there is any indication of a desire to leave. Victims often find it hard to recognize the abuse until they are in dangerous situations. Their agency is continually eroded under this pressure, leaving them with the feeling that they have no choice but to stay.
Even in normal times, the layers of bureaucracy can also act as barriers to freedom. Victims find themselves asking: “Will the police believe me? How can I attend court? Where will I sleep? Will reporting the abuse make my partner more dangerous? Will I get the custody of my children?” Lockdown and social distancing restrictions have further intensified these anxieties.
And that’s exactly what we plan to do — flattening the curve of violence in Commonwealth countries.
Governments, particularly those with more limited resources, can download toolkits to establish local campaigns which tackle domestic and sexual violence, support victims and those at risk and train community leaders on the ground. The digital portal is specifically designed to help victims understand and recognize violence and give them one-stop access to critical information, including local hotlines, shelters, safety plans and legal guidance.
We have developed guidelines to support citizens in speaking up when they see violence occurring in their circles of family and friends or local communities. The portal will also feature good practice guides for preventing abuse, delivering services and protecting survivors — including model laws on criminalizing coercive control in relationships so that a full history of abuse is investigated rather than as one-off incidents.
We recognize abuse does not stop when women are removed from their abusive homes. Victims need constant support to recover from the trauma and rebuild their lives. Their children also need counseling to change attitudes and behavior developed as a result of witnessing violence between parents. Perpetrators need to participate in special programs to help prevent them from reoffending in the future.
Our homes should be sanctuaries, not prisons. We do not need the gift of seeing into the future to be aware of what is happening in front of us right now. It is time for all of us to stand up, to say NO MORE and to work with resolve and a sense of purpose towards building safer homes and communities in a more just, equal and peaceful world.