Updated: Dec 1, 2020
TW - Discussion of domestic violence.
Beginning in early March state governments, businesses, and schools began realizing the true extent of the COVID-19 threat in the United States. As some day-to-day operations moved online and others shut down completely, people were encouraged to stay home. While many of us took to binge-watching Netflix and exploring new hobbies from the safety of our home, not everyone has the privilege of feeling safe within their homes. Specifically, victims of domestic violence across the country face a dangerous situation as they are forced into isolation with their abuser.
The Issue with Isolation
Stay-at-home orders and a surge in unemployment have created tension within many households. A study published in the International Journal of Mental Health Nursing found that the environment bred by coronavirus safety measures intensifies the risk of family violence (Usher et al. 2020). The stress that has come from economic and health uncertainty in the past 6 months is a factor that has fueled violence in the home and put many individuals at risk (Peterman et al. 2020, as cited in Usher et al. 2020). If victims are parents, then children who are now home full time may be exposed to violence that they were unaware of, putting them at risk as well.
Shelters are facing the difficult task of providing support while also maintaining social distancing and following CDC guidelines. Little to no interaction with the outside world during isolation limits the number of resources available to domestic violence victims. Tanya Selvaratnam, in her New York Times op-ed “Where Can Domestic Violence Victims Turn During Covid-19?,” points out that even though shelters in states like New York are able to continue operating as essential services, many are relying on hotlines and virtual sessions to provide support (Selvaratnam 2020). However, as these services move online, victims may find it difficult to utilize these resources while staying home.
Kathryn Laughon, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Nursing with experience studying partner violence, spoke about this exacerbated threat in an interview through UVAToday. Laughon explains that as public safe spaces - like work or a community center - close, abusers are more easily able to control and isolate victims (Kueter 2020). Oftentimes, abusers can use isolation to make their partner feel dependent and tied to their toxic relationship. The “new normal” of staying home and avoiding others as much as possible seems to go against the very advice given to victims of domestic violence trying to survive their situation.
Resources and Ways to Help
The Office on Women’s Health under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has created a page with links to programs fighting violence in various states. From coalitions to crisis centers, the site provides resources that can be helpful for victims, no matter which state they are in. Additionally, the National Domestic Violence Hotline provides free services including online chats, education on what abuse can look like, and statistics related to violence in the home. Laughon also encourages those at risk to use the myPlan App and Futures Without Violence for additional support (Kueter 2020).
For anyone that might know a victim of domestic violence, reaching out to these people in any way possible can be helpful. Anne Iovine, in her article “How to Help Domestic Violence Victims during the Coronavirus Pandemic” on Mashable, writes about Global Executive Editor of NO MORE Pamela Zaballa’s advice to keep a line of support with a victim. RAINN has also created a helpful toolkit that explains how to help support survivors of sexual violence (Iovine 2020). For those that are financially able, DONATING to these shelters, hotlines, and centers is a really big way to help. Many of these organizations are operating as not-for-profits and try to make all services free for all, so monetary support can go a long way.
While we are living during this global pandemic, it is important that we are aware of different groups of people that may be experiencing quarantine differently than us. Being aware of and sharing information about the elevated risk of domestic violence due to corona, no matter your expertise on the subject, can potentially help victims get the support they need.
Priya Thelapurath (She/Her)
Harvard College Freshman
Iovine, Anna. “How to Help Domestic Violence Victims during the Coronavirus Pandemic.”
Mashable, Mashable, 14 Apr. 2020, mashable.com/article/how-to-help-domestic-violence-survivors-social-distancing-covid-19-coronavirus/.
Kueter, Christine Phelan. “When Staying Home Is Dangerous: Domestic Violence During
Quarantine.” UVA Today, 17 Apr. 2020, news.virginia.edu/content/when-staying-home-dangerous-domestic-violence-during-quarantine.
Selvaratnam, Tanya. “Where Can Domestic Violence Victims Turn During Covid-19?” The
New York Times, The New York Times, 23 Mar. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/03/23/opinion/covid-domestic-violence.html.
Usher, K., Bhullar, N., Durkin, J., Gyamfi, N. and Jackson, D. (2020), Family violence and
COVID‐19: Increased vulnerability and reduced options for support. Int J Mental Health Nurs, 29: 549-552. doi:10.1111/inm.12735.