How Do We Keep Domestic Violence Survivors Safe During a Pandemic?

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Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, escaping abusive relationships has become even more challenging. 

Besides financial dependency and emotional manipulation, the current economic crisis, social distancing measures, and quarantine guidelines are now keeping people who experience domestic violence from leaving their homes.

Data suggest that at least 20 million U.S. workers have been laid off or lost work hours in the past few months. 

For survivors, this is more than merely losing their income. This means losing an opportunity to gain financial independence from their abusive partner while simultaneously losing one of their few safe spaces.

Others have kept their jobs and have been asked to work from home. Working remotely may be attractive and convenient for some people; however, this may result in a living hell for domestic violence survivors. Remember, home is not a safe place for everyone.

And what happens when an abusive partner loses their job? Stress and financial hardship often intensify emotional and physical abuse. That’s the perfect moment for an abusive partner to use a survivor as their punching bag. It’s how an already vulnerable person ends up in a more dangerous situation at home.

Family and friends usually provide another type of getaway for survivors. Unfortunately, this also seems to be out of the picture.

Back in March, an advocate from the National Domestic Violence Hotline shared, “a chatter said the abuser was using COVID-19 as a scare tactic so that they would not visit family,” and “[another] chatter mentioned that the abuser was using the virus as a scare tactic to keep the survivor away from their kids.”

While safety measures are essential to keep the virus from spreading, this pandemic is simply an additional excuse for abusers to further control their victims. 

Abuse is all about control and power, making the most marginalized and underrepresented groups of people the easier targets.

The CDC assures that “about 1 in 4 women and nearly 1 in 10 men have experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime and reported some form of IPV-related impact.”

Based on past research of events that have been similar to the current pandemic, it is mostly Native women, undocumented immigrant women, other women of color, LGBTQ people, and disabled people who continue to experience higher rates of domestic violence.

As a result, on an institutional level, support may look like:

  • Improving access to mental health services for Native women who live in rural, isolated locations
  • Fighting for immigration reform and legal protections for undocumented women
  • Providing additional funds for LGBTQ homeless shelters
  • Making resources accessible for disabled domestic violence survivors

These are only a few ways for the government to address the increasing numbers of domestic violence survivors. There are countless possibilities, but bureaucracy and politics get on the way. 

Well, systemic misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, racism, xenophobia, and ableism get on the way. Again, it’s all about control and power. 

So, in light of federal institutions’ lack of support, how could individuals support domestic violence survivors right now?

According to Workplaces Respond to Domestic & Sexual Violence, there are several forms of showing up for survivors whose lives have changed due to the pandemic. Here are some of them:

Seven Basic Ways to Help a Survivor During COVID-19

  1. Reach out: Although COVID-19 limits the options, calling and texting are always effective. Survivors may be afraid of talking to someone; make sure to regularly check-in with them and offer help. Keep in mind the abusive partner may monitor the survivor’s communication channels, so be careful with your word choice. If you’re unsure whether or not someone else may read or hear what you are saying, just express you are concerned about their well-being, you want to help, and there are resources available that you can share with them. Do not mention domestic violence unless the survivor discloses that information with you.
  2. Send basic needs: Ask the survivor if they need food or cleaning supplies and offer to drop them off at their house. Send them care packages with books, games, and toys for their children. 
  3. Spread the word if you hear of new work opportunities: When finding new positions, be mindful of survivors who have lost their job or maintain a remote job in a hostile home environment.
  4. Use the power of your relationship: If you are close to the survivor’s abusive partner, have a real conversation with them, hold them accountable, make a plan to manage their behavior, and connect them to resources. 
  5. Identify and provide a referral to a local program or community group: Connect survivors to resources. Research programs where survivors live and provide them with a phone number to a local organization, advocate, faith leader, counselor, or attorney. If the survivor needs to hide this information from the abusive partner, one strategy is including the contact in a general list of COVID-19 resources.
  6. Safely interrupt or intervene: You and the survivor could agree on a safe way of communicating in case they need you to call authorities, social workers, or family members. A code-word could also mean, “please call me on the phone to move to another room for safety.”
  7. Take care of yourself: Practice self-care. Worrying about someone close to you who experiences domestic violence may affect your emotional and physical health.

Now–more than ever–is the time to support survivors. 

On top of increasing domestic violence cases, the current crisis has made it more difficult for victims to seek help. 

The fear of getting their families (and themselves) sick has stopped survivors from reaching out, looking for a new job, taking legal action, or even going to the hospital after experiencing physical abuse.

For the past few months, the world has shifted, and everyone’s lifestyles have changed. People began to stay home and isolate themselves to stay safe. The thing is, for people who experience domestic violence, home will never be safe.