During the quarantine required by the coronavirus pandemic, people are frightened of previously innocuous activities: using public transportation, going grocery shopping, visiting with friends, even having contact with loved ones. For most of us, though, home is our safe haven. Tragically, for those who are victims of domestic violence, home, where they are cooped up with their abuser, is the most dangerous place of all.
If you are a victim of domestic violence, COVID-19 has most likely made your life more frightening while simultaneously making it more difficult to seek help because you are almost constantly under the watchful eye of the person you fear. There is still help available though, through domestic abuse hotlines, law enforcement (911) and experienced, well-connected domestic abuse attorneys who will do everything possible to protect you.
If there is more domestic violence occurring, why was there a lull in calls for help?
Even though at first fewer domestic violence calls were made during the pandemic, experts in various related fields who deal directly with the problem — police officers, psychologists, medical doctors, social workers, teachers, counselors — were well aware that fewer calls just meant victims lacked access to helplines. Family law attorneys, too, noticed an eerie, temporary pullback from troubled family members. Having abusers more in control than usual is terrifying.
The Messages are Now Getting Through — Domestic Violence is on the Rise
More and more reports of domestic violence are coming in all over the world. Victims call for help from locked bathrooms and locked cars, in the middle of the night or while walking the dog. Their friends and neighbors, relatives and teachers call in too, reporting violent behavior identified by sight or sound, and investigators are reaching out, listening to stories as familiar as they are disturbing.
Those who have dealt with victims of domestic abuse, and the victims themselves, know all too well that catastrophes, large and small, worsen this type of violence. Illustrative examples can be found in statistics gathered during and after hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters when complaints skyrocket. New estimates from the United Nations Population Fund suggest that three months of quarantine will result in a 20 percent rise in domestic violence worldwide.
Why is domestic violence surging during the coronavirus shutdown?
There are multiple causes of the awful increase in domestic violence during quarantine and each tends to exacerbate the others:
As noted, natural disasters precipitate elevated levels of domestic violence. Coronavirus, as natural as any of the other disasters, involves the added stress of being “novel,” unknown to this population. However stressful hurricanes may be, most of us have been through them before. We know how to prepare for them and know that, as much damage as they cause, they only last for days.
No one knows the end date of the coronavirus, how it will alter our future lives or for how long. Worse, no one knows who will be personally impacted by the disease or how severely they will be affected. On top of everything else, it has been scientifically proven that stress hormones (like Cortisol) are associated with increased aggression, meaning the more stressed the abuser becomes, the more likely he/she is to become violent.
It is well-known that social isolation enables domestic violence. This is why abusers try hard to separate their victims from family and friends. During the pandemic, when workplaces are closed, visiting is discouraged, and even public venues are largely off-limits, abusers have the ultimate control they have always sought.
Joblessness, Financial Instability, Food Insecurity
While other disasters have affected local businesses adversely, there have not been so many unemployed people since the Great Depression. Because the catastrophe is global and many forms of transportation increase risk of contagion, relocation is not a useful option.
In addition, with tens of millions of people unemployed, many families are experiencing food insecurity for the first time. Moreover, in our culture, many men, feeling that their masculinity is threatened by their inability to support their families, turn to violence to regain their sense of power and machismo.
Alcohol is one of the most common elements of domestic abuse. A certain percentage of people, when disinhibited by intoxication, become increasingly belligerent. It has been noted that during this country’s period of sheltering in place, the sale of alcohol has rocketed, in some areas climbing well over 200 percent.
When faced with external terrors, a certain portion of the population looks to firearms to defend themselves against invaders. Though futile in combating disease, firearms, for some, provide a sense of increased control. Many experts predict that there will be a marked increase in domestic homicide as a result of the increased number of guns in circulation.
No Place To Turn
Not only have law enforcement, legal, and judicial systems been overwhelmed, but many responders to domestic violence complaints are now working from home and may be less accessible than they usually are. Even more distressing, shelters for victims of domestic violence have not only been filled to capacity but are often unsafe for those seeking refuge. Due to their dorm-like settings, social distancing is frequently impossible.
Who will help you through domestic violence during the shutdown?
Dedicated professionals and volunteers have found ways to function and protect victims during the coronavirus shutdown, and law enforcers are more available to come to your aid as the COVID-19 pandemic passes its peak (at least for now). Phone calls, texts or emails will reach people who can help you learn strategies to cope, ways to escape, and safe places to go.
During this crisis, compassionate family law attorneys are also available. Skilled private lawyers who have extensive experience with this painful situation can give you guidance and hope. They can assist you in connecting with the right resources to keep and your children safe while they help you pursue legal remedies.