Stress is a major contributor to domestic violence, and the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has increased stress of all kinds for many families. Sadly, researchers have linked COVID-19-related stress and isolation to higher rates of domestic violence across the United States, China, Argentina, Cyprus, Singapore, Brazil, and the United Kingdom. According to TIME:
“Growing evidence shows the pandemic has made intimate partner violence more common—and often more severe.”
While effective for curbing the spread of COVID-19, stay-at-home orders have also trapped victims with abusive partners, making the situation worse for many families.
A Variety of Stressors
Researchers have found that job loss and financial stress increase rates of domestic violence, as evidenced by the spike in intimate partner violence reported during the 2008 recession. Other stressors include the closures of schools and childcare facilities, which have led to both intimate partner violence and increased rates of child abuse.
With more stress and more tenuous financial circumstances, researchers explain:
“there are more things to worry about and subsequently argue about. In many instances, that type of situation leads to an occasion for intimate partner violence.”
Further, couples have nowhere to go to relieve tension, and abusive partners have more opportunities to control their victims. An abusive partner might be saying something like “you can’t go out,” as a mechanism of control, but their “rule” is echoed by the government, leaving victims without much choice.
Obstacles to Assistance
The inability to leave the house also creates many obstacles for people looking for help. When couples are quarantined together, privacy is largely unavailable, and those suffering abuse have nowhere safe to go. Shelters and hotels have reduced capacity or shut down, and even close friends and family members may be unwilling to host due to COVID-19 restrictions and fear of the virus.
Without routine social visits, people experiencing abuse have no opportunity to communicate that they feel unsafe or that they are dealing with an emergency. They cannot even call the National Domestic Violence Hotline with their abusive partner in the other room.
Additionally, medical professionals do not have the chance to identify the warning signs of abuse and connect people with social services. Often, healthcare providers will uncover domestic violence injuries during a physical examination or observe indicative behavior when discussing intimate matters with their patients. Without regular doctor’s visits, domestic violence may not be uncovered until a victim winds up in the emergency room with their injuries.
The United Nations calls domestic violence “a shadow pandemic” within the larger COVID-19 pandemic and details the various ways safe harbors are cut off, and victims are left suffering as a result. Although rates of intimate partner violence have increased, we may not know the full scope of the shadow pandemic until restrictions related to COVID-19 ease and the individuals who have suffered abuse are identified or come forward for help.
How to Get the Help You Need
If you are suffering domestic violence, you may not be safer at home. Getting help may be more difficult if you are quarantined with your abuser, but it is not impossible. If you cannot call 911 or contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), consider sending a text message instead.
Take your phone with you when you go to the bathroom and contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. You can also use an incognito window on your smartphone’s browser to chat with the National Domestic Violence Hotline or text LOVEIS to 22522.
Another option is to get out of the house (if possible) and go straight to the emergency room. Tell your partner you are going to the store, for a walk, or on another errand and go somewhere safe instead – do not worry too much about the pandemic.
Healthcare providers are trained to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and respond to domestic violence. Because medical professionals are working hard to reduce your risk of exposure, you will be safer at the hospital than you would be if you continued to live with an abusive partner.
While you are out of the house, you can also call your loved ones for help and support or contact an attorney to help you get a protective order.
No matter who you talk to, be honest. Do not minimize your experience and let the people who are helping you know what you need. Be sure to include information about your children and do not be afraid to involve the police if you need help removing your kids from an unsafe environment.
At Fenchel Family Law, we know everything feels scary right now and the advice above is not as easy to follow as it may seem. Nevertheless, we are here to guide you through your family law case and help you take your life back.
The future is brighter on the other side and it can begin as soon as you call us at (415) 650-1112 or contact us online to schedule your consultation and discuss your legal options.