My Covid Story:
Nobody is immune to the impacts of COVID-19 on the way we live, but the consequences can be particularly severe for those suffering from domestic abuse. Numerous studies suggest that levels of violence have increased due to the toxic mix of heightened economic pressures, health-related issues, and “stay at home” rules that increase exposure to tense or already abusive relationships and eliminate a victim’s access to safe spaces during the day. These trends are further complicated by greater difficulties reaching out for help and getting access to the usual support organizations in one’s community.
Stay-At-Home Rules Leave Jane Trapped
The story of Jane (name changed for privacy), a suburban high school student, begins in a way that is all too common within the foster care system – a teen reaching out to her school for help escaping from an abusive home. From that starting point, Jane faced hurdle after hurdle in her quest for safety because her cry for help took place during the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On March 12th, Jane contacted her high school to say that recent “stay at home” rules left her trapped around the clock in an abusive home. Administrators worked diligently to set up a day in court. However, on the day of Jane’s scheduled hearing, courts across her state were shut down indefinitely. In the days that followed, social workers from the Department of Children and Families (DCF) navigated the new rules and managed to find Jane a safe home, only to watch their plans crumble once again – this time because a member of the foster-family tested positive for COVID-19. Luckily, local police worked closely with school administrators and DCF to keep a watchful eye on Jane’s abusive family while the support service agencies searched for another solution.
Eventually, they found a safe new home for Jane. Nonetheless,
Jane’s harrowing story highlights the range of difficulties faced by those experiencing domestic abuse in the COVID-19 era
Jane’s harrowing story highlights the range of difficulties faced by those experiencing domestic abuse in the COVID-19 era, from the violence and trauma itself to the risk of contracting the virus from a stranger to adjusting to a whole new living circumstance at a time that is already fraught with fear and uncertainty.
What Do the Experts Say?
Victoria Helberg, an employee at Respond (an organization that works with victims of domestic violence) noted how life during the pandemic makes it hard for those in need to reach out for help or to be identified by the community. Ms. Helberg said that there was a decrease in calls to Respond at the start of the pandemic. This trend may seem counterintuitive. But, as Ms. Helberg explains “people don’t have the opportunity to make calls because they were now at home with their abusive partner.”
people don’t have the opportunity to make calls because they were now at home with their abusive partner.
Ms. Helberg’s experience was echoed by a United Nations (UN) report that there has been a notable decrease in domestic violence reports during lockdown. Confirming Ms. Helberg’s real-life experience, the UN speculates that this is due to the hesitance of women to find help or address these incidents when forced to share their lockdown space with their abusers.
Despite increased difficulties reaching out for help reported by many experts, certain locations have still noted a spike in hotline activity regarding abuse. In Spain, the domestic violence hotline received 18% more calls in the first two weeks of lockdown than in the same period just one month earlier. Similarly, the United States and France reported roughly 30% increases in domestic complaints or occurrences of violence. These numbers are striking; yet, based on Ms. Helberg’s experience and the United Nations report, these statistics likely still underestimate the actual increase in incidents of abuse. For example,
Google noticed a 75% increase in Internet searches regarding support for domestic violence in Australia
Google noticed a 75% increase in Internet searches regarding support for domestic violence in Australia, demonstrating the large sum of victims who have likely been unable to receive help during the pandemic but are scouring the web for help.
No Safe Space
The surge in cases of domestic abuse is also complicated by a lack of access to safe spaces for victims. Ms. Helberg states that “before, their abusive partner may be off to work, or they would be off to work, and they would have those kinds of moments in between to make [such] calls.” With no access to those private times and spaces today, difficult situations are made worse. Even children witnessing or experiencing abuse would rely more on the safety of schools and other locations for both a break from their homes and a place to get help.
children witnessing or experiencing abuse would rely more on the safety of schools and other locations for both a break from their homes and a place to get help.
How Nations and Localities are Responding to this Crisis within a Crisis
During this extreme time, nations and local organizations have been taking the issue of abuse and domestic violence seriously. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently brought to light the importance of countries prioritizing support for those dealing with domestic violence. As a result, in France (for example), grocery stores set up a system using certain signals or code words to let the staff know that they need help. Around the globe, local organizations such as Respond have been helping as well, providing many services 100% virtually, while continuing to keep their shelter program staffed 24/7.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created numerous additional complications for victims of abuse. At the same time, it is helping to shine a light on the seriousness of the ongoing problem and the need for vigilance. Even post-pandemic, governments and organizations need to continue to uncover the incidents, address the challenges, and create viable solutions to end domestic abuse and temper its devastating impact.
Written & Reported by Ella Gavin; Edited by Dr. Jacki Hart