Domestic Violence Has Increased During Covid-19. Here’s How To Create A Quarantine-Friendly Safety Plan.
During Covid-19, domestic violence cases have spiked across the United States. 911 dispatchers have reported 7.5% more calls related to domestic violence disputes. Advocates speculate that the actual number of cases is likely higher since many domestic violence victims do not report their abuse.
What might drive this increase in domestic violence cases during Covid-19? Michele Sperzel is the CEO of Harbor House of Central Florida, which is a resource center for victims of domestic violence. Sperzel told Click Orlando, “We saw a big increase with the number of people who are living with the abuser who needed access to services.” During quarantine, victims are forced into close proximity with their abusers. In other words, people must spend more time with their abusers whereas, in the past, these individuals may have been able to leave their home to avoid an angry partner. With businesses and households on lockdown, there are now fewer opportunities for escape or respite. For people in abusive relationships, this additional time at home can quickly become deadly.
Domestic violence hasn’t just increased during Covid-19 — it’s become more volatile. Sperzel explains, “We saw an increase in the lethality indicators within a domestic violence situation, so for instance we saw an increase of weapons being used when it comes to domestic violence, strangulation, assault on someone who’s pregnant, [and] actually people being held against their will.”
Psychologists are studying the psychological pressures that may be feeding this dangerous cycle of abuse. A study in American Behavioral Scientist indicates that economic and emotional stressors from Covid-19 may contribute to this violence. Job loss, emergencies, and housing insecurity — stark realities during Covid-19 — have been correlated with domestic violence in the past.
Covid-19 does not cause a person to become abusive. But a study in Journal of Health and Social Behavior points out, “abusive men don’t show signs of depression or other reactions to the stress they’re under. Instead, the feelings of stress build up and are released in bursts of violence.” Chronic stress or repressed emotions do not excuse abusive behavior; however, researchers hope that this behavioral insight can help practitioners intervene to stop domestic violence before it occurs.
What might domestic violence look and feel like during Covid-19?
Abuse can take many forms. During the pandemic, here are some warning signs.
- Withholding, hiding, or destroying vaccination passports or other medical records
- Controlling your ability to receive a vaccination
- Cutting off your internet access
- Preventing you from working or studying from home by controlling your access to Zoom
- Threatening to expose you to the virus
If you suspect that you or a loved one is experiencing abuse, contact a local crisis center or shelter near you.
While domestic violence cases have increased during Covid-19, victims face challenges when they seek help. Because of the increased need for safe housing and social distancing policies, some shelters may be full. When victims are quarantining with their abuser, they may feel like they’re under heavier surveillance. If an abuser realizes that the victim is preparing to leave, they may become more violent. In fact, the most dangerous period of a violent relationship is when a partner has chosen to leave. The organization Battered Women’s Support Services states that 77% of homicides from domestic violence occur when the victim is trying to separate from the relationship, and there’s 75% more instances of violence in these ending stages of a relationship.
Because of this risk, many victims must take great care to keep their escape plans a secret from their abuser. The pandemic has complicated a victim’s ability to prepare to leave their home. If an abuser is monitoring your internet access, for example, it can be difficult to search online for a crisis help number. Many abusers and victims are in close quarters, day and night, during Covid-19. If a victim manages to leave an abusive environment during the pandemic, they may not have been able to pack their clothing, money, or important personal documents.
How to Create a Quarantine-Friendly Safety Plan
A safety plan is a plan of action to cope during and escape a violent situation. This plan may involve the following strategies:
- Tell a trusted loved one about your situation. This person can be a valuable ally to you.
- If the abuser has left the home to run an errand, use the time to take pictures of or make copies of your most important personal records: birth certificates, social security numbers, leasing contracts, car deeds, etc. Send digital or physical copies of these documents to a trusted person.
- Come up with a safety signal or safety word. You may want to made a code with a loved one. When you text your ally a specific emoji, for example, that person will know that they need to call 911 because you’re in danger.
- Ask a trusted person to help you sort through housing options. They may be able to call shelters on your behalf, especially if your abuser monitors your internet and phone activity.
- Some domestic violence resources are concealed so that, on the surface, they look like they’re news or shopping apps. Check if any of these apps may be helpful for your situation.
Domestic violence is a scary reality for countless individuals. During Covid-19, many people feel more isolated than ever. But if you’re in an abusive situation, you don’t have to struggle alone.