A few days ago, Spice Girls veteran Mel B (real name Melanie Brown) shocked the internet with a harrowingly important video about domestic abuse. As a patron of Women’s Aid, Mel collaborated with composer and award-winning film director and composer Fabio D’Andrea as well as choreographer Ashley Wallen to create the short film Love Should Not Hurt. The video narrates the journey of a woman who appears trapped in an extremely abusive relationship.
In an interview for Women’s Aid Mel B discusses how the juxtaposition of the composed music and the visuals are meaningful, “This project really does represent [what domestic abuse feels like], you’re listening to something so beautiful yet witnessing something so horrendous and that is what you end up living—a double life.”
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This is a double life that Mel unfortunately knows first hand. As a survivor of abuse herself, she told ITV News: “I, on stage, yelling girl power, being a Spice Girl, which I absolutely love but, you know behind closed doors it was a very different story. It just goes to show it can happen to anybody.” She’s right, it can happen to anybody, which makes the timing of this short film release even more important.
Mel B’s story is not and should not be treated as an isolated headline—the past year of lockdowns has shown a disturbing rise in domestic abuse cases, not just in Britain but across the world. In the same Women’s Aid interview, Teresa Parker, the Head of Media and Communications for the grassroots organisation further highlighted the point of this campaign by explaining that “there are so many women who are impacted by violence. There are so many women who are raped or go missing. Women are much more likely to die. One woman is killed every four days.” Hearing those words throws us back to those difficult weeks in March 2021, as the tragic case of Sarah Everard brought to light the stories of #AllWomen.
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The timing of this release almost coincides with the UK government’s passing of the new Domestic Abuse Bill. Some of the new changes to the bill, which were announced 2 weeks ago include the addition of controlling or coercive behaviour as a form of abuse as well as non-fatal strangulation, ‘revenge porn’ and many others. Revenge porn is another abusive crime that was brought to the forefront thanks to Love Island star Zara McDermott’s BBC Three documentary, which premiered in February of this year. Although revenge porn laws were first introduced back in 2015, this new 2021 bill makes further promises in following through more heavily on convictions. The crime currently carries up to a two-year sentence.
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As much as the achievements of the bill should be celebrated, it has fallen short of what survivors and activists had originally hoped for. Sadly, it still fails to account for the protection of migrants and those on Universal Credit or other state benefits. Janaya Walker, Legal, Policy and Campaigns Officer at Southall Black Sisters told ITV, “The decision to reject our amendments effectively enshrines a system whereby a woman’s access to support and safety when fleeing violence, is determined by her background and immigration status. We are clear that without equal protection, the Bill is neither landmark nor transformational, it is discriminatory.”
How can we celebrate such a bill that falls short in delivering for all women, especially women of colour? Mel B’s short film comes just after the passing of this new law and sheds light on just how much further we need to go in order to protect all women.
The singer wrote passionately on Instagram that “this is the most important video I have ever made, I will never stop fighting for this cause so please please keep sharing, […] to the abusers we know who you are even though you are still out there thinking you can get away with it. The tide is turning.” Indeed, the tide does appear to be turning, perhaps not through our government’s actions but definitely with the help of influential people like Mel B, the #MeToo movement as well as through the work of grassroots activists. From February to May, 2021 has been filled with incredible highs and terrible lows for women but what has stayed consistent is the conversation. For four months, the subject has remained in the mainstream, as it should, and with Mel B’s stunning new short film, I hope it stays there until the UK government provides the necessary measures for all women.
Since 9 March Italy has been under full lockdown: for the past two weeks and continuing, citizens have been told to stay at home, with the exception of grocery shopping, going to the pharmacy and practicing some limited outdoor exercise. The police patrols the streets and people who are found outside the house without justification or a self-certification can be fined or, in the worst case scenario, arrested. While Italy has been the European ‘precursor’ of this strict isolation, this scenario is either being put into place or will certainly be enforced in most European countries and beyond in a matter of days.
Overall, the rules are simple and the message clear: don’t leave your house unless necessary. Despite a shared feeling of claustrophobia induced by the sudden forced confinement, most citizens are adjusting fast to this new way of living. But as the days pass and the regulations tighten, new concerns over the safety of all citizens are inevitably raising. Staying home doesn’t equal safety for everyone.
The data made public from Telefono Rosa—an Italian organisation that provides a range of support and help for women and children victims of domestic violence, sexual and psychological violence, stalking or mobbing—shows that compared to the same period last year, in the first two weeks of March the calls to their help-centre have dropped by 55.1 per cent: from an approximative 1,104 calls they have only received 496 so far.
In any other situation, such a drastic decrease in numbers would’ve been interpreted as an accomplishment, but in this specific scenario, these numbers indicate an alarming situation: victims of domestic abuse usually call if their abuser isn’t in near proximity. Being stuck for 24 hours, seven days a week, with a violent individual not only means higher risk of violent episodes, but it also stops victims from seeking help.
If just for a moment, and it already feels absurd to do so, we put aside the state of financial precarity that a huge chunk of the population is facing because of the economy’s current stall, and focus on the social and psychological conditions in which some citizens are forced to live during this quarantine, the spectrum of inequality that looms over this newly imposed set of rules would appear in all its prominence.
The struggles of confinement do not only affect those whose domestic environments are threatening, but they’re taking a considerable toll on the people whose lives are directly managed by the state. During the first week of isolation, there have been over 8 prison riots throughout Italy. Some inmates violently responded to the government cancelling all family visits in a short term attempt to prevent the coronavirus from entering the prisons.
The Italian government tried avoiding what could potentially turn into a catastrophe: overpopulated prisons (with 61,230 inmates over the official capacity of 47,231 places) and a weakened sanitary system budget meant that all the isolation requirements applied on the outside would be unattainable inside Italian prisons.
In Spain, someone wrote the message ‘The romanticisation of the quarantine is a class privilege’ and hung it on a white sheet from their balcony. The image widely circulated on the internet, mainly and simply because it was astoundingly true. The bigger the house, the bigger the windows, the bigger the gardens, and the more pleasurable this quarantine will be. Having access to the necessary means for a healthy quarantine is without a doubt a class privilege, but I’m afraid we’re just realising that it is way more than only that.
The ultimate paradox of this quarantine is that the virus itself has no barriers when it comes to infecting. COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate between gender, class, or race—it can get us all. And yet, the conditions in which people navigate this state of emergency and will eventually emerge from it are profoundly different. “We could say that it treats us equally, puts us equally at risk of falling ill, losing someone close, living in a world of imminent threat,” wrote American philosopher and gender theorist Judith Butler in a piece published on Verso a few days ago titled Capitalism has its Limits.
“Social and economic inequality will make sure that the virus discriminates. The virus alone does not discriminate, but we humans surely do, formed and animated as we are by the interlocking powers of nationalism, racism, xenophobia, and capitalism,” further explains Butler. And she couldn’t be more right. As we all experience this unsettling lifestyle, at times even romanticising the surreal changes it is bringing into our lives, some are left with little rights and even less hope.
As the spread of COVID-19 grows exponentially and as the magnitude of the health, economic and social consequences that this pandemic will have on society are still incalculable, one thing remains certain: the flaws of our socio-economic structures are violently revealing their fallibility, flowing from the cracks that were left uncared for and that are now opening wide.
The cases mentioned above are Italy-based, and surely each country will respond to the emergency according to its own legislation, but what is happening in Italy is exemplary of what worsens during a state of emergency: the vulnerable inevitably get more vulnerable.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not asking to give up on the desperate irony, the memes, and the mood-lifting online group gatherings most of us are enjoying in order to cope with the situation. New forms of digital aggregation and solidarity are coming out of this, and we should by no means disregard them. This unexpected shift of rhythm has to be cherished and made the most out of, but as we do so, it is worth keeping both eyes open on what these restrictions might mean to those of us whose experiences aren’t worth any romanticisation.