COVID-19 & Domestic Violence

horizontal background woman in isolation at home for virus outbreak or hypochondria .

by Josey Allen and Jacob Correa

Oprime aquí para ver esta página en Español.

Covid-19, also known as the Coronavirus, has turned the world upside down. It has changed countless lives in all areas of life. The government has recommended that everyone socially distance themselves in public, and quarantine for 14 days if they have been around other people. Isolation seems to be the best line of action to combat the spread of the virus. 

With non-essential businesses and personnel being forced to close up shop and work from home, there has been much speculation as to when the US will reopen. Nevertheless, the safest place for individuals to be at the moment is home, but what if home isn’t the safest place for you? 

Shelter In Place Has Impacts on Abuse

One demographic that hasn’t been acknowledged in the COVID conversation enough are the victims of intimate partner violence who will be quarantined with their abusers. With self isolation orders taking effect, victims of domestic abuse are feeling more trapped than ever. The effect that this isolation will have is detrimental. Before the pandemic, survivors were able to distance themselves from their abusers and avoid coming in contact with them for some parts of their day. This gave people in violent relationships some relief from their abuse. For example, they may have been able to leave the house for work or school, or their abuser leaves for similar reasons.  However, victims are now unable to get away from their abusers, causing them to constantly be on high alert in their own homes, which can be mentally draining and potentially more dangerous overall.

 During quarantine, all of these opportunities no longer exist, and stress levels are high. People are losing their jobs and the economy is crashing. Heightened stress levels have been proven to spike violence levels. The immense stress of a seemingly endless quarantine and the loss of income is causing a uniquely stressful situation that none of us have faced before. It’s a situation so stressful and isolated, it makes domestic violence agencies incredibly fearful for the people facing an abuser with no way out and no time away to call for help. 

Psychologically, domestic abuse is about one partner attempting to gain power and control over the other partner. Once an abuser has gained control, they are very unlikely to relinquish it. This makes it hard for a victim to reach out for help or leave in general, but add in being quarantined with that abuser, and it makes it just about impossible. Isolation is a form of abuse in the first place. Abusers will often try to remove their victims from their loved ones and safety nets. So when isolation is being encouraged by the government and public, and leaving home raises the threat of contracting the virus, it traps the victim even more. It’s a widespread belief that abusers will look to regain some of the power and control they lost due to the Coronavirus pandemic by asserting their power and control at home over their partner. Experts are worried that domestic abuse cases in the US will increase drastically as more individuals lose their jobs and experience financial hardships. Moreover, as families continue to financially struggle, it becomes more and more difficult for people experiencing abusive relationships to leave their partner. This suggests that the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic on individuals in abusive relationships will continue to loom long after the virus has been eradicated.

What Can You Do?

At Day One, we encourage having a safety plan in place at all times. But it is especially important if you are going to be stuck in isolation with your abuser for extended periods of time. We recommend that your safety plan starts with the past triggers that may have set your abuser off before – anything that made them irrationally upset and violent, such as jealousy, arguments about money, alcohol and drugs, etc. If it has set them off in the past, it can trigger them in the future, so trust your instincts and stay safe. Remember what you did in the past during these situations to diffuse the argument. Be sure to keep in touch with loved ones as much as you can. 

During this period of isolation, it is imperative to have contact with outsiders so they know the situation and can give you support when needed. An outside perspective can also make it more difficult for an abuser to gaslight their victim, because they can give you separate thoughts and reassurance. Be sure to have money set aside of your own so you can leave and get somewhere safe if things become dangerous. This may include a fund for a hotel room, a loaded subway card, or cab fare. 

Remember, you are not alone. Upwards of ten million Americans experience domestic abuse every year. If you know someone who is a survivor or is currently in an abusive relationship, reach out to them and see how they’re doing. During difficult times like this, it is important to build a sense of community. Let them know that you are there for them, and that you are able to help them. Open up a line of communication and perhaps establish a safe word or something similar so that if they need help they can contact you in a discreet manner. 

During this time, shelters are in desperate need of donations and help. If you’d like to help your local shelters they can always use donations of feminine products such as pads and tampons, diapers, baby toys, soap and hygiene products, canned goods, volunteers, and funding. There are ways to give to shelters while still keeping social distance, so reach out to your local homeless and domestic violence shelters to see how you can help. 

It is important to know that there are still open resources that can help you, such as domestic violence hotlines and shelters. Safe Horizon still has several shelters open in New York and operators are still running the hotline.You can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). They are available 24/7 in more than 200 languages. All calls are free and confidential. In addition to calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline, you can text LOVEIS to 22522 for help. 

Day One provides free, confidential counseling and legal services. You can contact us on our website, call us during business hours at 1-800-214-4150, or text us at 646-535-3291.

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