Staying home has been a crucial strategy for beating the spread of COVID-19, but one horrifying consequence of sheltering in place has been a global rise in domestic abuse.
NBC News reported a national increase of domestic abuse cases in early April – less than a month into most US lockdown orders. Of the 22 US law enforcement agencies they surveyed, 18 police departments said they had seen a significant rise. Houston alone found a 20% increase in reported incidents.
In some other major cities, reports of abuse have noticeably declined. While this may seem like a positive indication, many officials actually see it as a much grimmer sign. They believe domestic violence is in fact increasing, but that the survivors are stuck with their perpetrators and unable to reach authorities.
The situation has grown so severe, throughout the world, that even United Nations Secretary General António Guterres recently called for urgent action, tweeting, “I urge all governments to put women’s safety first as they respond to the pandemic.”
A Perfect Storm
What could account for this increase? When survivors of abuse are forced to shelter in close proximity to their abuser, the abuser can use the situation as another way to exert power and control over them. Isolation is a key tactic of abusers and lockdowns unfortunately can add more ways for them to isolate their victims.
Another factor is the uncertainty and financial stress that comes with a disaster situation. “External factors that add stress and financial strain can negatively impact survivors and create circumstances where their safety is further compromised,” reads a recent press release from the National Domestic Violence Hotline. A Demography study from 2016 backs this up. The study found that the sudden rise of unemployment during the last recession “increased men’s controlling behavior toward romantic partners.”
With travel restrictions, and the lower capacity of shelters due to physical distancing and decreased availability of law enforcement, this can leave a survivor with devastatingly few options.
What Abuse Looks Like in COVID-19 Times
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, the most common COVID-related calls have involved abusers blocking essential workers from going to work and, by doing so, gaslighting the victim with accusations that they’re trying to infect them or limiting their access to the outside world. Another trend they’ve noticed is abusers obstructing victims from protecting themselves from the virus – for example limiting soap, hand sanitizer or shower access. For more common signs of abuse in COVID-19 times, check out this article from the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
What To Do If You’re In an Abuse Situation
If you find yourself in an abusive situation – please hold on to hope: you are not alone and this is not forever. Even in this challenging time, there are still resources available to help you get to safety.
The National Domestic Abuse Hotline is open 24/7 and their services are totally free and confidential. You can reach them at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 for TTY. You can also log onto thehotline.org or text LOVEIS to 22522 – if you’d rather not speak over the phone. They will help you create a safety plan and connect you with other relevant resources.
The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) also operates a 24/7 hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673). If you’d rather find an organization local to you, RAINN also offers a searchable list of local resources.