Domestic Violence amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic
by Dorislee Gilbert
We are in unprecedented times as a nation. For many of us, fear is the predominant emotion. For some, fear was already the predominant emotion in life. The social distancing, quarantining, joblessness, and limited supplies of household products and groceries have struck terror in the hearts of these.
Imagine a life where the easiest moment of the day was when you and your abusive spouse parted ways and headed off to work in the morning. You knew that for 8 hours you would be physically safe and you could focus your energies on something else that would take you far away from the scary, violent place that home had become. But suddenly, your employer requires you to work from home. Your spouse’s employer closes its doors, and home your spouse comes too. The kids’ school has been closed, and they’ve come home with mountains of schoolwork that you’ll have to facilitate. You got to the grocery store just in time to get the last 8 rolls of toilet paper, the last carton of eggs, and one of the few loaves of bread left, but you don’t know when or if you’ll be able to get more.
Your spouse is angry that the world is coming to a halt all over some virus that nobody understands. Your spouse is anxious because paychecks are dependent on working, and your spouse isn’t working. The kids are bored and full of energy, and your spouse is annoyed by them quickly. Your home is loud, cluttered, and busy. Your spouse just wants peace and quiet, the mess cleaned up, and your undivided attention. But you can’t provide any of those things. Tensions build. You fear for your family’s health, but you fear for their safety even more. How long until your spouse loses it? Your spouse can barely keep it together until the kids are in bed under normal circumstances. Will your spouse’s fury be unleashed in front of the kids this time? Will it be unleashed on the kids this time? Will you survive this “social distancing” designed for your safety?
A 2018 a report from the United Nations declared that home is the most dangerous place for women around the world. And now, we find women around the world being confined to their homes in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus. Unsurprisingly, during the COVID-19-related quarantine in China, the number of domestic violence cases reported increased significantly. As reported in Axios, the number of reports to one police station were three times higher in February 2020 than in the same period a year ago. A retired police officer and domestic violence advocate in China reported to the HuffPost that 90% of the causes of violence were related to the COVID-19 epidemic.
The additional stressors and forced isolation on families increases the likelihood of violence in already volatile homes. Current circumstances also make it more difficult for victims of abuse to leave the abusive relationship, and not just because everybody is supposed to stay home. The economic uncertainty of these times and the lack of easily accessible household staples means victims who might have been ready to leave their abusers have to rethink their plans. The fear of being infected with coronavirus means victims who might have been prepared to enter a domestic violence shelter are hesitant to do so. All of these circumstances mean that domestic violence shelters may be more limited in the services they are able to provide and the number of people they are able to serve.
Is there anything we can do to help curb domestic violence in the midst of this crisis when so many of our resources and attention are devoted to such other important causes? Maybe. Do you know a victim or a perpetrator who are now forced to be in close quarters in very stressful circumstances? Do you know a family where you sincerely fear that violence might erupt in these unusual times? Can you make a phone call? Can you be a voice of reason, a voice of calm to a near-perpetrator who is close to reacting violently? Can you be an ear for someone to express their frustrations or fears? Can you make daily calls to make sure someone is alive? Can you work out a system about an amount of time with no contact from your friend before you call the police and ask them to check on your friend’s safety? If you can do any of these things, maybe you can help.
The following articles regarding COVID-19 and domestic violence may also be of interest to you.
Allen-Ebrahimian, Bethany, “China’s Domestic Violence Epidemic,” Axios, March 7, 2020
Driscoll, Brogan, “Higher Risk of Domestic Abuse during Coronavirus Self-Isolation,” HuffPost, March 14, 2020.
Jeltsen, Melissa, “Home is Not a Safe Place for Everyone,” HuffPost, March 12, 2020.
Ralph, Elizabeth, “How Coronavirus Hits Women,” Politico, March 13, 2020.
Scharff, Xanthe, “Why the Coronovirus Outbreak Could Hit Women Hardest,” Time, March 12, 2020.
Sherman, Carter, “Domestic Abuse Could Spike as the Coronavirus Traps People Indoors,” Vice, March 14, 2020.