By Alejandra Kaiser
In a society with deeply internalized gender roles that lead to unequal power relationships between men and women, violence is often tolerated and even justified in households. Last year, more than 200,000 cases of domestic violence were reported in [Perú] – one of the highest rates in Latin America. The Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations estimates that 70% of the children in alternative care entered the system because among other reasons, they were victims of physical, sexual or physiological abuse.
“In most of the cases, women have seen violence in their home and it feels normal for them, which leads to submission, inability to act, low self-esteem and a lack of awareness of what is happening,” says Stephany Orihuela, a child protection specialist and psychologist at SOS Children’s Villages Perú. “This has severe effects on the children’s behavior, like emotional problems, low school performance and the normalization of violence.”
The level of violence has only increased as families are forced to stay home due to the coronavirus pandemic. Between March 10th when the lockdown started in Perú, until May 10th, more than 30,000 calls flooded the national helpline for domestic violence.
“Uncertainty and economic stress can lead to a violent outrage and the limitations imposed forces the families to coexist in violence, which may cause irreparable damage in the victims,” says Ms. Orihuela.
A holistic approach
In cooperation with community leaders, SOS Perú promotes what it calls “protective communities” where people are trained to identify cases of domestic violence in their neighborhood and inform the SOS team.
“If a person’s life or integrity is at risk, the SOS family advisor will file the police report together with the community leader,” says family strengthening program specialist, Paola Olivera. “Otherwise, the SOS team will work in alliance with government institutions to support the family.”
Individual guidance and psychological counseling seek to respond to each family’s needs. SOS Peru offers support to empower women to become economically independent while working with children to repair wounds and teach them healthy interpersonal relationships.
SOS also runs Active Fatherhood workshops for men, which seek to redefine views about masculinity and a man’s role in the household. The SOS team comes up with creative strategies to make these workshops more attractive for men, like organizing a football match between fathers after each session.
“Around 90% of the fathers in the workshops admit they get violent with their partners and children,” says Ms. Olivera. “The idea of these workshops is to change these ways and beliefs, by giving them tools and an understanding of what is a healthy household. So far, we have had remarkable results.” In 2019, more than 300 fathers completed the Active Fatherhood program and have shown a change in behavior at home, she says.
Domestic violence in times of lockdown
SOS family advisors remain vigilant to keep their outreach work going during the coronavirus lockdown, which began on March 15. Although women can leave their home to file a police report or call a helpline, this is can be difficult with the aggressor present 24/7.
Recognizing that the strain on families increases the risk of violence, SOS family advisors are in constant communication with the families twice a week to give them socio-emotional support and guidelines.
“We have also started telephone psychological therapy for the most vulnerable families in need of additional emotional support,” says Ms. Olivera. “Together with the family advisors, they can identify if there are signs of violence to women or children.”