Domestic Abuse On The Rise Amid Reactionary Coronavirus Lockdown Orders
As more and more cities and states go into shelter-in-place, stay-at-home, and lockdown orders, one unintended side effect is a rise in domestic abuse, where women and children are literally not allowed to leave their abuser.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline has seen a spike in calls, and here is their official message on the matter:
Avoiding public spaces and working remotely can help to reduce the spread of COVID-19, but for many survivors, staying home may not be the safest option. We know that any external factors that add stress and financial strain can negatively impact survivors and create circumstances where their safety is further compromised.
Abuse is about power and control. When survivors are forced to stay in the home or in close proximity to their abuser more frequently, an abuser can use any tool to exert control over their victim, including a national health concern such as COVID-19. In a time where companies may be encouraging that their employees work remotely, and the CDC is encouraging “social distancing,” an abuser may take advantage of an already stressful situation to gain more control.
Here’s how COVID-19 could uniquely impact intimate partner violence survivors:
Abusive partners may withhold necessary items, such as hand sanitizer or disinfectants.
Abusive partners may share misinformation about the pandemic to control or frighten survivors, or to prevent them from seeking appropriate medical attention if they have symptoms.
Abusive partners may withhold insurance cards, threaten to cancel insurance, or prevent survivors from seeking medical attention if they need it.
Programs that serve survivors may be significantly impacted –- shelters may be full or may even stop intakes altogether. Survivors may also fear entering shelter because of being in close quarters with groups of people.
Survivors who are older or have chronic heart or lung conditions may be at increased risk in public places where they would typically get support, like shelters, counseling centers, or courthouses.
Travel restrictions may impact a survivor’s escape or safety plan – it may not be safe for them to use public transportation or to fly.
An abusive partner may feel more justified and escalate their isolation tactics.
“My husband won’t let me leave the house,” a victim of domestic violence, tells a representative for the National Domestic Violence Hotline over the phone. “He’s had flu-like symptoms and blames keeping me here on not wanting to infect others or bringing something like COVID-19 home. But I feel like it’s just an attempt to isolate me.“
Her abuser has threatened to throw her out onto the street if she starts coughing, saying she “could die alone in a hospital room.” She fears that if she leaves the house, her husband will lock her out.
For people who are experiencing domestic violence, mandatory lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19 (the disease caused by the new coronavirus) have trapped them in their homes with their abusers, isolated from the people and the resources that could help them.
I’m petrified about being trapped inside this house 24/7 with a man who has raped me in my sleep and threatened to cannibalise me,’ says Stephanie*, 24, who lives in South West England.
‘I’m scared I won’t see the end of all this. I don’t think I have it in me to keep fighting if I’m forced to be trapped with him and have no face-to-face contact with anyone else.’
Home is not a safe place for Stephanie, who lives with her abusive, alcoholic ex-partner, from whom she hasn’t been able to escape for financial reasons since they broke up last year.
The coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, and the encouragement to distance yourself socially or ‘self-isolate’, means that she is currently living in fear that the sexual, physical, emotional and financial abuse that already torments her, will intensify.
‘I could be raped again and if he can’t get his alcohol fix, he might get angry and violent or even kill me.’
As this coronavirus spreads across the UK, women and children looking to escape an abusive relationship are terrified. The current advice to socially distance ourselves by avoiding non-essential travel, working from home and avoiding pubs, clubs, theatres and more general gatherings, is potentially dangerous for women trapped inside with their abusers, whose actions may be aggravated by the fallout of the current crisis.
Stigma related to COVID-19 has left some children more vulnerable to violence and psychosocial distress. At the same time, control measures that do not account for the gender-specific needs and vulnerabilities of women and girls may also increase their risk of sexual exploitation, abuse and child marriage. Recent anecdotal evidence from China, for instance, points to a significant rise in cases of domestic violence against women and girls.
“In many ways, the disease is now reaching children and families far beyond those it directly infects,” said Cornelius Williams, UNICEF Chief of Child Protection. “Schools are closing. Parents are struggling to care for their children and make ends meet. The protection risks for children are mounting. This guidance provides governments and protection authorities with an outline of practical measures that can be taken to keep children safe during these uncertain times.”
Increased rates of abuse and exploitation of children have occurred during previous public health emergencies. School closures during the outbreak of Ebola virus disease in West Africa from 2014 to 2016, for example, contributed to spikes in child labor, neglect, sexual abuse and teenage pregnancies. In Sierra Leone, cases of teenage pregnancy more than doubled to 14,000 from before the outbreak.
Rockford, Il, based WREX brings us this video report:
A woman’s shelter in Ann Arbor is also concerned, as ClickOnDetroit reports:
Domestic violence survivors are especially at risk right now, wrote executive director of SafeHouse Center, Barbara Niess-May, in a statement released this week.
SafeHouse Center is Washtenaw County’s women and children’s shelter and provides support to domestic violence and sexual assault survivors.
“With external factors of mass closures, record numbers of people not working or working from home and the tension of the unknown, stress can build and lead to increased incidences of domestic violence,” wrote Niess-May.
“In our work with survivors, it has been our experience that assailants use social isolation to gain greater control over the survivor. It often begins in subtle ways, but grows over time which minimizes any help a survivor can access and can have significant physical and mental health impacts. Examples of social isolation include alienation from family and friends, endanger employment, turn children against the survivor, and eliminating their role in household decision making.”