Worldwide domestic violence reports have risen sharply amid the global pandemic and the lockdowns it has caused, and that’s just the reported cases. Roughly half of domestic abuse cases are never reported. Domestic violence stems from the desire for power and control, and, unfortunately, the coronavirus makes these things more attractive and more easily attainable. Why has the pandemic created such an effect? What are the results? And, finally, what can we do about it?
With so many people now working from home, abusers don’t have to wait until the end of their workday to take their anger out on their partners and/or children. According to Marianne Hester, a Bristol University sociologist who studies abusive relationships, domestic violence cases already increase whenever family members spend more time around each other during seasons such as Christmas and summer vacations, and people are now spending more time around their families than ever. Victims also have more restricted access to support systems such as family members, friends, lawyers and alternative housing solutions. Additionally, many male household leaders historically rely on sports to relieve some of their anger and stress; with games postponed for the foreseeable future, that energy gets pent up and potentially used against victims.
The coronavirus-related stress, isolation, and uncertainty have increased Americans’ anxiety in general; abusers who insist on constant surveillance or other types of control of their victims will become even more paranoid as a result. People are also more tired right now due to the emotional toll of current events, making them more susceptible to coercion.
We’ve reported more details about this subject in the past, but as a refresher, abusers often show the following behaviors in addition or sometimes instead of what we consider physical violence:
· Isolation from friends, family and employers
· Strict and/or detailed rules
· Restrictions of access to basic necessities such as food, clothes and sanitary products
· Threats and/or guilt trips
As you probably put together, the coronavirus-related shutdowns strengthen all of these behaviors: people are more isolated already; it’s easier to keep an eye on people; it’s easier to tell if people are following your rules; people have more restricted access to the aforementioned services; the coronavirus gives perpetrators the option to threaten throwing people out on the street so they get sick; and the virus can pose a bigger threat than abusers – would you rather leave and risk catching it, or stay safe from the pandemic, even if it means staying with a perpetrator? Additionally, some abusers withhold access to financial resources and/or medical assistance.
According to NBC News, the US’s law enforcement reported a 35% increase in domestic violence cases during the past few weeks. Visits to NYC HOPE’s relief website more than doubled from ~45 daily visits to ~115. Experts report one in four women and one in seven men experience physical violence from a partner at some point during their lives.
Heartbreakingly, child domestic and sexual abuse has also risen. Some children only find safety in school, and most schools have been shut down. Scott Berkowitz, president of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), said that “Last month [March 2020], for the first time ever, a majority of RAINN’s sexual abuse hotline users were minors.”
Overall, our society needs well-funded and strong support systems for survivors; here are several specific examples of efforts that would help:
· Longer-term and better-funded social and economic resources
o Fight for policies that socialize child and elder care
o Safer cohabitation and community options
· Shelters deemed essential services
· Continued prosecutions and prison sentences of abusive individuals
· Psychological care for survivors
Unfortunately, while many countries have implemented changes that help, the US has yet to follow suit.
If you or someone you know may be in any danger of domestic violence, the following resources are available:
· National Domestic Violence Hotline – text or call 1-800-799-7233, or chat here
· National Sexual Assault Hotline – text or call 1-800-656-4673, or chat here
· StrongHearts Native Helpline – 1-844-762-8483
· Trans LifeLine – 1-877-565-8860
· Deaf Hotline – video phone 1-855-812-1001
· National Parent Helpline – 1-855-2736
· Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) – 1-800-658-4673
· Safe Horizon – chat here
· Suggestions to help you reduce household uncertainty and stress
· View a more comprehensive list, including state-specific organizations, here