Coronavirus and Domestic Violence: A Double Risk

Domestic Violence Coronavirus

While millions of people around the world improvise strategies to deal with social confinement and isolation, there are those who have no escape from the hell that lives inside their homes.

In the United States, under “normal” conditions — that is, without a pandemic affecting every aspect of their lives — nearly 20 people are physically abused by an intimate partner every minute, adding up to more than 10 million women and men each year, according to figures from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV).

But with a public health crisis that forces the entire population to work from home and not leave their homes except in cases of extreme need through the spread of the coronavirus, people exposed to domestic violence and abuse face a double risk.

That is why organizations and domestic violence advocates in communities across the country have sounded the alarm “over another public health crisis looming in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic,” the Washington Post said.

“We know that when there’s added stress in the home it can increase the frequency and severity of abuse. We’re trying to prepare survivors for that,” said Katie Ray-Jones, chief executive of the National Domestic Violence Hotline to the Post. “There is a lot of uncertainty about what is even possible right now — if you need to call the police, what does that look like?”

In fact, since the coronavirus crisis began to take hold across the country, response lines to help victims have seen a dramatic increase in the frequency of calls.

“The traffic on our response line that helps survivors navigate these processes has doubled,” says Natalia Otero, co-founder of DC Safe, the largest crisis intervention agency in the city. 

With experience serving up to 5,000 victims through the court process, the agency has now had to turn to counteractive measures such as an online platform, hotlines and grassroots, “sending advocates out into the community to provide services for all victims who contacted them.”

“The only relief right now is for survivors that are in critical need,” Otero added, according to WTOP.

To make matters worse, the courts have turned to online resources to resolve cases, which delays and makes procedures less efficient.

According to the New York Post, Family Court “went wholly virtual” as of last Thursday, “with just three judges handling all five boroughs via Skype hearings”.

“We have one woman who is calling us multiple times a week from her bathroom whispering into the phone, praying that her abuser doesn’t hear her,” said Benjamin Segal, a spokesman for the Met Council on Jewish Poverty, which operates a domestic violence hotline.

Dorchen Leidholdt, director of the Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services at the nonprofit Sanctuary for Families, said: “We are very, very concerned because we know there will be an uptick in domestic violence situations as victims are in quarantine with abusers and afraid to leave their homes.”

The few resources that a person at risk of abuse often has, such as contact with others or even planning escape strategies, have been curtailed by the pandemic, which also adds high levels of stress and fear, aggravating the circumstances in small living spaces.

“It is the perfect storm for someone who wants to isolate or hurt their partners,” said Val Kalei Kanuha, assistant dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the University of Washington’s School of Social Work, to CNN.

The thing is, violence is a normalized response in American society.

“Gun sales are surging nationwide, as they did after 9/11 and the stock market crash of 1987,” added the media. “It’s a symptom of uncertain times,” industry analyst Rob Southwick told CNN last week. “When people are afraid of the unknown, they’ll buy a gun — even if their enemy is a virus.”