During the outbreak of Covid-19 many states have issued a shelter in place order to help slow the spread of the virus. Celebrities and public figures have used the tagline ‘We’re all in the same boat’ as a show of solidarity and to encourage others to follow the CDC’s recommendations. But these comments have earned quite a lot of criticism. The public’s response has been an emphatic ‘No’. We are not all in the same boat. The same storm, yes, but definitely not the same boat. This is especially true when it comes to instances of domestic violence during COVID-19.
For many the lockdown is stressful and frustrating, but mostly just an inconvenience. For others, it will be a period of true crisis. In our efforts to protect the most medically fragile members of our communities, we have endangered another vulnerable population. Melissa Godin from Time said ‘For people who are experiencing domestic violence, mandatory lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19 … have trapped them in their homes with their abusers…’ making it even more likely they will experience greater violence in the weeks ahead.
Domestic violence takes many forms. The National Domestic Violence Hotline defines it as ‘a pattern of behaviors used by a partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship’. Abusers use a variety of means to control their victims. Apart from physical or sexual abuse, they might also use the following methods:
They will use any means available to them to cause pain, fear, and to justify their actions.
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1 in 3 women will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Godin says that ‘according to the World Health Organization, … [domestic violence is] “the most widespread but among the least reported human rights abuses.”’ A study conducted by the Department of Justice found that 84% – 86% of all victims of family violence were female. However, domestic violence does not discriminate. It affects people from all walks of life regardless of age, sex, orientation, or socioeconomic background.
Ray-Jones also told Time that “We know that domestic violence is rooted in power and control. Right now, we are all feeling a lack of control over our lives and an individual who cannot manage that will take it out on their victim.” In her interview Ray-Jones told Time that many recent callers to the hotline report that their abuser is using the virus to control their activities. One caller said “My husband won’t let me leave the house. He’s had flu-like symptoms and blames keeping me here on not wanting to infect others or bringing something like COVID-19 home. But I feel like it’s just an attempt to isolate me.”
The caller went on to say that he has threatened to throw her out if she begins coughing and fears he would lock her out of the house if she left. Godin went on to say that other callers report their abuser is threatening to kick them out so they become sick. Others report that abusers are using it as an excuse to withhold financial resources and necessary medical attention.
Cases of abuse escalating is always a concern in times of crisis. Unfortunately, the data doesn’t always reflect this. Domestic violence is greatly under reported even during the best of times, but many cities are reporting a drop in domestic violence since SIP began. Why is that?
The sad truth is that many who are facing domestic violence are simply unable to access anyone who can help them escape or seek medical care. Trapped at home with their abuser it is much more difficult to get a private moment to make a call or send a text. And getting caught can have brutal or even fatal consequences. Ray-Jones stated that while domestic violence numbers may not rise, the longer we remain in lockdown the worse it will be for those in abusive situations.
Ray-Jones also told Time that “We know that domestic violence is rooted in power and control. Right now, we are all feeling a lack of control over our lives and an individual who cannot manage that will take it out on their victim.” Many callers to the Hotline have expressed concerns over accessing resources due to the virus itself. According to the Department of Justice, only 34% of victims injured in domestic violence seek medical help. Some fear contracting the virus themselves or exposing their children.
In reviewing the organization’s log book, Godin found an account in which a caller ‘said she was self-quarantining for protection from COVID-19 due to having asthma.’ The advocate who took the call recorded that the woman’s partner had strangled her. ‘While talking to her, it sounded like she has some really serious injuries.’ But the woman refused to go to the ER due to fear of catching COVID-19.
Many also fear that falling back on friends or family may not be an option right now. The CDC states that those most likely to become seriously ill are older or have certain health issues. As a result victims now fear that doing so could endanger their older parents, or friends with health problems. Fears over travel restrictions, and limited resources due to joblessness also prevent them from seeking help.
‘Organizations like the National Domestic Violence Hotline are developing new strategies to support victims during lockdown.’ Says Godin. Many organizations are creating programs that allow victims to reach out via text or online chats. This enables them to seek help with a little more discretion than trying to find the privacy to make a phone call.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline via text or call at 1-800-799-7233.
If you are experiencing physical or sexual violence or any other form of abuse you may need legal help. The lawyers at The Law Office of Bell & White specialize in family law, ranging from adoptions and CPS cases to custody and child support cases . They will be happy to consult with you about your case. Our experienced attorneys will be able to answer any questions you might have including how to get a divorce during quarantine.