If You Reside with Home Violence, Residence Might Be the Final Place that Feels Secure Throughout COVID-19
COVID-19 has forced millions of Americans to practice social distancing and work or study from home. Unfortunately, for many who live with domestic violence, home is the last place they feel safe as abusers often isolate their victims from friends, family, and co-workers as a control tactic.
Stacey, * a mother who stayed at home, didn’t realize until after the pandemic that the emotional abuse she was experiencing was viewed as domestic violence. “The lockdown escalated existing tensions with my husband,” she said, “and it took a conversation with a therapist to determine that my home, which I had always viewed as a safe haven, no longer felt safe.”
More than one in three women in the US will report physical violence, stalking, or rape by an intimate partner during their lifetime. The number is even higher for minority women and members of LGBTQ communities.
Native Americans are three times more likely to be subjected to sexual violence than any other ethnic group, and a staggering 84% of Native American women (Native American and Alaskan) are exposed to domestic violence during their lifetime. Just over 45% of black women experience physical violence, sexual violence, or stalking from an intimate partner in their lifetime. Bisexual women experience the highest percentage of intimate partner violence among all sexual orientation groups, and at least one study shows that transgender women also experience more violence than cisgender women.
The restriction due to COVID-19 is escalating to domestic violence cases, where many perpetrators are using the pandemic to control those who abuse them. While it’s difficult to calculate exactly how many women were affected by domestic violence during the pandemic, the National Domestic Violence Hotline has reported a 9% increase in domestic violence phone calls, chats, and texts in the US. In April last year, the United Nations published a study forecasting a 20% increase in domestic violence during the pandemic worldwide.
Using COVID-19 as a weapon
Abuse is about power, and COVID-19 offers abusers a unique way to control their partners.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline said the pandemic could make abusive partners feel more legitimate in dealing with violence and that they may be using isolation tactics to increase. These tactics may include withholding insurance cards or preventing women with COVID-19 symptoms from seeing a doctor.
Abusers may even refuse to provide hand sanitizer to their partners to keep them safe outside the home, or they may benefit from travel restrictions that limit a woman’s ability to leave a dangerous situation. Abusers can also turn off phone or internet service to limit their partners’ ability to connect with people outside the home.
Margaret Bayston, CEO and general manager of Laura’s House, a domestic violence home in Orange County, California, said she saw an increase in toxic stress in homes due to job loss and work disruption.
Domestic violence attorney survivor Melody Gross also believes that this economic hardship contributed to an increase in domestic violence.
“A lot of people have lost their jobs and some women are suddenly becoming the only providers of their families. This is really damaging to many men’s egos – it doesn’t fit the patriarchal narrative of what they think they should look like,” Gross said.
She added that losing control of money can lead some men to become violent and financially abusive. Financial abuse occurs in 99% of domestic violence cases and is one of the main reasons women stay with or return to abusive partners.
These types of abuse can include hiding information about finances, restricting access to funds, or forcing women to hand over public benefits such as unemployment checks. In extreme cases, abusive partners can prohibit women from working or sabotage employment opportunities in order to control their partners’ every move.
Think of an exit plan
Gross said women exposed to domestic violence should create a safety or exit plan that will allow them to get out of the situation they find themselves in.
“This plan looks different for each person,” said Gross. Her own plan involved realizing that what was happening to her was actually domestic violence. She also got a restraining order and found a lawyer.
For other women, their plan could include keeping a disposable cell phone hidden in the car, keeping a folder in a safe place that contains all important documents, finding out where the kids would go if an incident happened, or a code word, that you can share with a friend or neighbor to initiate an action like calling the police.
Bayston also supports the creation of an exit plan. “Some women may find it more difficult [during the pandemic] to apply for an injunction, “she said, adding that women can use telemedicine to discuss their situation with mental health providers or even with trusted employees via video chat.
Co-workers, neighbors, friends, and family members who suspect someone is suffering from domestic violence may want to offer assistance. Bayston said there are four main components that this support should include:
- It takes great courage to come forward. Be a good listener and believe the victim or survivor.
- Do not label the abused woman or her abuser, as this may cause shame, embarrassment, or other feelings that may prevent them from seeking help.
- Find local resources and help create a safety or exit plan. This could include making phone calls, gathering information, or offering help to young children.
- Don’t blame the woman. It is never a woman’s fault for the abuse inflicted on her.
Gross and Bayston stressed that there are resources for violent criminals, including family education and therapy.
“We don’t think people can’t change,” said Bayston. “The cycle of violence can be broken.”
* The name Stacey is a pseudonym.
National hotline for domestic violence
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence