Coronavirus and Domestic Violence: What to Do If You’re Being Abused

Domestic violence is on the rise during the Covid-19 pandemic. Here are ways to stay safe even during this crisis.

Young women looking scared with partnerPhotographee.eu/Shutterstock

The current Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a second global pandemic: An increase in domestic violence.

According to The New York Times, the domestic violence emergency number in Spain reported an 18 percent spike in calls during the first two weeks of the pandemic. China, Italy, and other countries have seen a similar increase, with France reporting a 30 percent surge in domestic violence reports.

The U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline is seeing “an increase in the number of survivors reaching out who are concerned with Covid-19 and how their abusive partner is leveraging Covid-19 to further isolate, coerce, or increase fear in the relationship,” said Katie Ray-Jones, CEO of the Hotline and loveisrespect.org, in a prepared statement.

“It’s a perfect storm of stressors,” says Laura Schwab Reese, PhD, assistant professor in the department of public health at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. “There’s financial stress on many people, the uncertainty of what’s going to happen, normal social interactions are interrupted.”

This is what you need to know about domestic abuse in the age of Covid-19:

Learn to recognize abuse during the pandemic

Domestic abuse can take many forms including verbal insults, physical violence and, often, trying to isolate you from family, co-workers and friends.

As the National Domestic Violence Hotline points out, social distancing gives some abusers an opportunity to take even more control.

Ultimately it’s all about power and control and Covid-19 gives abusers another potential “tool” in their tool box. Before the pandemic, an abuser may have hidden a phone or a credit card, now they may threaten access to hand sanitizer, withhold insurance cards or access to medical care, or purposely deliver misinformation about the virus, says the Hotline.

Ruth Glenn, president and CEO of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), says that one abuser threatened to throw a survivor out of the house and let her fend for herself. “It’s an added strategy that abusers can use during Covid-19, a tactic to maintain and keep control,” she says.

It’s okay to feel overwhelmed

Let’s face it, almost everyone is feeling more anxiety at this time. There’s a lot of psychological stress, uncertainty about jobs and financial stability, substance and alcohol abuse, in addition to the increase in social isolation, and an interruption in our normal daily interactions.

“It’s okay to be overwhelmed and scared right now,” says Schwab Reese. “That’s something people need to hear. Everyone is scared and panicked and if you’re in a violent relationship, it can be even scarier now when many are stuck at home.”

Adds Victor Fornari, MD, vice chair of child and adolescent psychiatry at The Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, New York, “This pandemic is an unprecedented situation in our history and the truth is is that most people are stressed and certainly in families or in homes where there is domestic violence, the tension level may be increasing.”

You’re still your own best expert

You know better than anyone how to stay safe, including whether or not it’s safe to leave, and it’s no different now. “Our messaging to survivors has been to do exactly what you’ve been doing to stay safe. You get to make that assessment,” says Glenn.

If you can and do decide to leave an abusive situation, make sure you’re medically safe outside of your home. That means wearing masks and following state, local, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocols, says Glenn.

Love is Respect recommends making a safety plan and even has an interactive safety planning tool online. Of course, many forms of travel, including on planes, may not be feasible at this time. (Here are 15 things most women don’t know about domestic violence.)

Know where to turn for help

Domestic violence advocacy organizations and staffers are still working, and are offering support and resources even during the pandemic.

“There’s nothing that’s changed about being able to reach out. How that’s provided may change,” says Glenn. “Rather than go to the outreach office, you may need to do it virtually.”

If you can find a safe place to keep it, hold on to the number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) as well as numbers for local safe shelters.

But even using the phone can be risky if you’re a survivor, never more so than now when so many people are cloistered in close quarters. You could leave a trail for an abuser to follow or compromise your privacy or confidentiality, according to Technology Safety. Chatting or texting may be safer. Try logging onto thehotline.org or text LOVEIS to 22522. The Crisis Text Line is available to help individuals in all kinds of situations who are dealing with the Covid-19 outbreak

Stay socially connected

In addition to having information on crisis resources, it’s also important to stay connected with your social network during the pandemic when you may not be able to go to work or do regular errands like shopping or picking up kids, says Schwab Reese.

Again, be aware that staying connected—even virtually—means you could leave crumbs of information for the abuser. “Be mindful about the ways you reach out,” says Schwab Reese. (Here are stories of people who survived and escaped domestic violence.)

Make up a code word for children

If you have children in the house, create a code word you can use in case things escalate. The word will let your child know that he or she needs to call 911, or you need to leave the house, says Schwab Reese.

“As much as we want to practice social distancing, if a situation is likely to result in really significant harm, it’s better to leave the home and be away from that situation,” she says.

And since children are so sensitive to what’s going on around them, it’s important “to affirm their feelings, recognizing that it’s okay for them to be angry or sad and also working with them to create a safety plan,” Schwab Reese says.

There are also specific resources for children in domestic violence situations, such as childhelp.org and End Violence Against Children.

Know that shelters are still there

If you make the decision to leave and are able to do so, there are places to go. Domestic violence shelters are operating at capacity during the pandemic but they are still there.

“Shelters don’t close because of Covid-19,” says Dr. Fornari. “They’re taking all the precautions that everyone is.”

Some adjustments shelters are taking include making sure beds are six feet apart and rotating who gets to go in the kitchen, says Glenn. “Overcapacity is problematic but we’ve heard of rural shelters borrowing trailers or RVs. We’ve heard of other programs working with local hotels so there are ways.” (This is what experts want you to know about domestic abuse.)

Practice self-care

The word self-care may be associated with bubble baths or yoga, says Schwab Reese, but it can be much more than that. Self-care during the era of quarantine and coronavirus could be as simple as stretching your body, “window shopping” for clothes online, or doing a self-massage, she points out.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline also recommends taking care of the basics like getting enough sleep, trying to exercise and, if that’s overwhelming, focusing on one thing at a time. The Hotline even has a self-care board on Pinterest.

Sources

Amanda Gardner
Amanda Gardner is a freelance health reporter whose stories have appeared in cnn.com, health.com, cnn.com, WebMD, HealthDay, Self Magazine, the New York Daily News, Teachers & Writers Magazine, the Foreign Service Journal, AmeriQuests (Vanderbilt University) and others. In 2009, she served as writer-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. She is also a community artist and recipient or partner in five National Endowment for the Arts grants.