By James Paul Gomez and Alain Kyle Robredillo
Although the country logged fewer cases of violence against women (VAW) in 2020, an expert said Thursday the lack of mobility due to lockdown restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in an underreporting of cases of abuse of women.
“It can be ten times more or one hundred times more,” said University of the Philippines Center for Women and Gender Studies director Nathalie Africa-Verceles.
She said the statistics only provide a surface-level of awareness on the prevalence of VAW, as there are still unreported accounts of women abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The VAW statistics are useful for us to have an idea (about the cases), but the numbers are inaccurate,” Africa-Verceles said in an online interview.
In the report published by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the Philippine National Police (PNP) recorded 15,553 VAW cases in 2020, falling 27.2% compared to the 21,366 cases in 2019.
Reports of physical abuse also declined by 30.1%, from 16,251 in 2019 to 11,357 cases in 2020, while acts of lasciviousness also dropped by 24.8%, from 2,085 cases in 2019 to 1,568 in 2020.
Reported cases of rape only saw six more cases year on year, from 2,162 in 2019 to 2,168 in 2020.
However, Anna Laurene Del Rosario, Information Officer of the Inter-Agency Council on Violence Against Women and their Children (IACVAWC) Secretariat, emphasized that the low incidence of cases does not mean that VAW decreased.
Owing to the lockdown restrictions, women were left in the constant watch of their abusers, which made the process of reporting more difficult, she said.
“With quarantine measures in place, women victims of violence are left with no choice but to stay at home with their abusers. They may not be able to report incidents because they are constantly monitored by their partners,” Del Rosario said in an email.
She also cited the limited operation of public transportation and the disruption of anti-VAW services as other factors why women could not seek protection.
“Victims who have no private mode of transportation had difficulty reaching their barangay halls and/or police stations to make a report or seek protection. Access to and availability of anti-VAW services were also disrupted as LGU operations were scaled back or redirected to pandemic-related operations,” Del Rosario added.
As of January 21, 2021, PNP Women and Children Protection Center reported a total of 11,184 cases of violation of RA 9262 or Anti-Violence against Women and their Children Act of 2004 followed by 2,117 cases of rape and 1,550 cases of Acts of Lasciviousness.
PNP-WCPC also reported that Region VII has the highest number of VAW cases with 3,159. Second in line is NCR with 1,726 cases, while Region VI had a total number of 1,376 cases. The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, however, reported the lowest number of VAW cases with only 54.
Despite the PNP being the only official source of administrative data on VAW with respect to its nationwide reporting system utilized by all police stations in the country, Del Rosario underscored that there are cases being reported to other service agencies.
Police Col. Joy Equia Tomboc, Chief of Anti-Violence against Women and Children Division, WCPC, admitted that there is a possibility that there are more cases of abuse happening to women than what the data had recorded, but were unreported due to the lockdown restrictions.
“During the lockdown, it is possible that domestic violence occurs. The data we have are only based on the reports that we received. So, there could be other unreported cases, especially during the first two to three months of 2020,” Tomboc said in an online interview.
As there are uncertainties in the number of reported cases, the grave effects of abuse on women are often overshadowed. Worse, it is further overlooked by the ongoing pandemic.
“The effects of violence cannot always be seen. It could cause long-term effects not only on the mental and physical conditions of the VAW victim-survivors, trauma, and sexual health problems that hinder a woman’s growth and participation in society,” Del Rosario said.
“Violence also threatens the family structure by targeting the vulnerable members – mothers, wives, children – and causes irreparable damage to family relationships,” she added.
To address the problem of violence against women, Tomboc said that PNP tightened their services such as their hotline and social media services. She added that they also conduct home visitation to validate and assess the report.
However, Africa-Verceles believed that it is not enough for agencies to have interventions, she said that those options must be of service and accessible to all.
“Their hotlines should be working, and they should also be responsive to the reports from victims. The contact numbers of helplines and emergency support services should also be published online so that everyone will be aware,” she said.