The Double Pandemic of COVID-19 and Domestic Violence
by Maya Cherins
Across the globe, cities, states, and countries have implemented lockdowns in order to stop the spread and flatten the curve of coronavirus. Students were sent home from universities, companies vacated their workspaces, and people fled from major cities to be in the suburbs. As everyone was seeking safety and comfort in such an unprecedented time, families were forced together to “socially distance.” While for some it may be a relief to be with their loved ones, for others this is suffocating.
Domestic violence is the experience of abuse and assault from one’s partner in a romantic/intimate relationship. As of 2019, one in four women in the United States have experienced some form of domestic violence, and that is not including the millions of unreported cases.
Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, domestic violence and sexual assault have always been deemed a global pandemic. The United Nations reported that 243 million women and girls from the ages of 15 to 49 have experienced some form of violence from an intimate partner. The domestic violence rates for LGBTQ+ folk are just as high.
History shows that domestic violence rates always increase when families are together more; summer vacations, winter, and spring breaks. During the Ebola outbreak from 2013-2015, research shows increasing rates of gender-based violence: “This focus (of preventing gender-based violence) was important, but protocols were never established to protect girls and women from violence during the outbreak. Quarantines and school closures were put in place to contain the spread of disease. This left women and adolescent girls vulnerable to coercion, exploitation, and sexual abuse.”
Now with Covid-19 forcing a global lockdown, families are spending more time together now than ever before.
Which begs the question: are domestic violence rates increasing? Unfortunately, yes.
Spain has reported an 18 percent jump of domestic violence calls in the first two weeks of social distancing. In Sevilla, Ana Bella runs a foundation to assist women who have experienced domestic abuse: “We’ve been getting some very distressing calls, showing us clearly just how intense psychological as well as physical mistreatment can get when people are kept 24 hours a day together within a reduced space.”
Chicago police reported 13 percent more calls in relation to domestic violence, yet United States data shows reports of domestic violence are dropping. As it stands, 911 calls are not counted in domestic violence reports. Professionals say this is because victims are unable to seek refuge from their abuser without breaking lockdown.
New York shows a similar trend with an increase in calls, yet a decrease in reports: “The reported downturn in domestic violence in the city contrasts with a spike reported statewide. For example, State Police troopers responded to 1,753 domestic violence calls last month, a 15 percent increase from March 2019, when there were 1,522 calls, a spokesman said.”
Survivors of domestic violence are currently in the most unsafe position, unable to receive in-person therapy, travel to a safer location, or go to medical professionals for assistance. Amanda Taub from the New York Times explains: “The isolation has also shattered support networks, making it far more difficult for victims to get help or escape… Institutions that are supposed to protect women from domestic violence, many weak and underfunded to begin with, are now straining to respond to the increased demand.”
Along with being isolated from necessary services, victims are unable to live their everyday lives away from their partner: “With schools and nonessential businesses shut, victims have lost opportunities to find privacy away from their abusers and seek help, such as going to work or walking children to school.”
In response to the double pandemic that is domestic violence and Covid-19, the United Nations published a report on ending violence against women and girls: “The existing crisis of VAWG (Violence against women and girls) is likely to worsen in the context of COVID-19. Emerging data shows that since the outbreak of COVID-19, reports of violence against women, and particularly domestic violence, have increased in several countries.”
Inside the report, recommendations are made for governments and organizations to consider when dealing with the high rates of violence including allocating additional resources, improving quality of response from services for women who experience violence, putting women at the center of policy change, and ensuring sex-disaggregated data is collected to better understand the impact Covid-19 is having.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline also put out a list of suggestions for survivors in quarantine which include creating a safety plan, practicing self-care, and reaching out for help.
Although we are in unchartered waters, understand there are resources and people here to help. If you or someone you know is experiencing sexual or physical violence, call 1-800-799-7233. Or text LOVEIS to 22522. You are not alone.