COVID-19 has been tough on everyone. It has been particularly hard on those dealing with controlling partners. There has been a marked increase in domestic violence around the world during this pandemic. According to the United Nations, calls to authorities, shelters, and hotlines have increased significantly in the US and worldwide. DVSN has seen this same trend on a local level. Stay-at-home orders, business and school closures, job loss, and lack of socializing have exacerbated the problem on multiple fronts.
Trapped with Abusers
Stay-at-home advisories combined with remote working, layoffs, and closed public facilities leave victims stuck in their homes with nowhere to go. Often their abuser is restricted to the same space. With no time apart or outside commitments to ameliorate tensions, the frequency and severity of violence has increased. A recent study at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston found that while the number of intimate partner violence victims treated from March to May 2020 decreased compared with the same months the past three years, the incident rate and severity of injuries were greatly increased. Due to fear of the virus or of controlling partners, victims are not seeking care or assistance until the abuse becomes much more severe. The decrease in number of patients is another indication of this conclusion.
Stress, financial strain, and isolation are known factors aggravating violent behavior. COVID-19 circumstances have increased all three of these factors. Normal life has been momentously disrupted for most people. Day-to-day activities have been cancelled or significantly altered. Job loss or some form of income disruption/reduction means many are facing severe financial difficulty. Plus, there is a general state of fear or concern about themselves or a loved one contracting the virus. These new, considerable stressors can lead to increased and more severe violence. The National Domestic Violence Hotline reports a 9% increase in contact volume during the first two months of the pandemic compared to the same period in 2019.
COVID-19 as an Abuse Tactic
Domestic abuse can take many forms beyond physical violence. Verbal, sexual, financial, and psychological are all common types of abuse. The coronavirus has given controlling partners a new tactic, a new threat to hold over their victims. Mandates to stay at home and minimize exposure to others give abusers a legitimate reason to isolate their victims. Abusers use the pandemic to increase fear in the relationship and further control their partners.
DVSN Statistics FY2019 vs. FY2020
Throughout the pandemic, dedicated volunteer advocates have continued to operate DVSN’s Help Line. Comparing DVSN statistics between fiscal years 2019 and 2020, we are seeing very similar patterns in our local communities to those found nationally and worldwide. While incoming help line calls decreased slightly in 2020, police referrals and successful phone outreaches increased. The actual time spent talking with clients increased 32% and total client contacts more than doubled. Specifically, from March to June 2020, the number of clients increased 14% and client contacts were up 39% compared with the same months of 2019.
Increased Difficulty Getting Help
Not only are victims dealing with increased violence and new means of control, COVID-19 has made it more difficult for them to seek help. Many victims are unable to safely reach out due to the proximity of their abusers. Confined together, victims can neither discuss their situation without abusers probably overhearing their conversation nor find resources online without abusers potentially seeing their search. Therapy and advocacy options are limited and/or remote. Medical professionals often screen for potential signs of abuse, but, with cancelled appointments and telemedical check-ups, screening procedures are much more difficult or even impossible to address. Closed or limited courts mean restraining orders and other legal options are more challenging to pursue. Shelters have to contend with social distancing, masks, and sanitization procedures. Victims have significantly fewer safe options during this pandemic.
Increased Visibility & Awareness
While COVID-19 has increased and aggravated domestic violence issues on all sides, there is one ray of hope that has pierced through the mire. The pandemic has brought abuse issues into greater focus. The exacerbating factors of coronavirus-related changes have led to greater media coverage and greater awareness of this “shadow pandemic”. The incredible success of DVSN’s Celebration of Hope Benefit virtual fundraiser, “20 Days in 2020”, is testament to the increased attentiveness to this issue and the public’s desire to help. The extent of DVSN’s COVID-19 resources is indicative of the creative ways communities are developing new systems to support those in need. We can only be hopeful that this trend will continue and lead to better availability of resources, increased public knowledge, and a universal decrease in all forms of abuse.
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