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COVID-19 and Domestic ViolenceThe coronavirus pandemic has shifted economic, social, and legal realities all around the globe. Sheltering in place has brought some couples closer together, but it’s also resulted in growing rates of domestic violence. As vulnerable individuals are forced to remain in volatile and potentially dangerous situations, governments, non-profit agencies, and individual citizens seek solutions to this serious global problem.

Making a Bad Situation Worse

New York Times writer Amanda Taub reveals that intimate partner abuse has increased worldwide since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak. This isn’t a surprise to experts like Bristol University sociologist Marianne Hester, who’ve noted that domestic violence rates typically rise during holidays and summer vacations. Right now, social distancing measures create longer confinement periods and more opportunities for abusers to target their victims.

In early April, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres stressed the need for urgent action to deal with the problem. However, Taub adds that lack of planning by local and national governments leaves them struggling to help those at risk.

Seeking Help Is Harder During the Pandemic

Writing for Time, journalist Mélissa Godin describes how the pandemic has complicated things for victims who want help. Healthcare organizations are overloaded as they care for COVID-19 patients, potentially leaving sufferers without access to care. Others are afraid that they’ll contract the virus in doctors’ offices or emergency rooms. Individuals who’d normally stay with other family members are concerned that they’ll expose them to the virus. Shelters in many jurisdictions are also crowded or closed down completely, leaving some without safe places to go. Additionally, the financial upheaval caused by the outbreak may deplete resources needed to flee unsafe situations.

Meanwhile, male victims are also struggling during the outbreak. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence states that 1 in 9 men experience intimate partner abuse. Psychology Today’s Rob Whitley suggests that the actual numbers are higher, but men tend to underreport their abuse for fear of being ridiculed or not taken seriously. The current strain on resources for victims may also leave abused men without recourse.

How Advocacy Groups Respond to Current Challenges 

The NCADV describes how many organizations are adjusting their operations to remain available during the pandemic. Some have staff working remotely and are strengthening networks to help those impacted by domestic violence. Others have adopted staggered scheduling to avoid having too many staff in the same physical space simultaneously.

Those forced to suspend in-person events have been able to offer them through other channels: telephone counseling, online programs, and donation pick-ups with implemented social distancing guidelines. In many areas, non-emergency services are available via telephone, text messaging, or email. Some organizations are using Zoom to chat with clients, ensuring that their accounts and practices comply with privacy regulations laid out by HIPPA.

Recognizing Domestic Abuse Patterns

Both Godin and Taub discuss how perpetrators keep the cycle of abuse going. With shelter-in-place orders confining sufferers in their homes, abusers are finding it easier to exert control and intimidation. Taub cites trauma expert Judith Lewis Herman, who parallels these methods to those used by kidnappers and repressive political regimes to break others’ wills. Besides physical violence, perpetrators often isolate their victims, subject them to constant surveillance, insist on adherence to strict behavioral rules, and restrict access to basic life necessities.

Sheltering in place can be difficult enough for emotionally healthy couples. For those dealing with intimate partner abuse, it can become a hellish reality and a struggle for survival. There are no easy answers to the problem, but many organizations are stepping up to offer support as they’re able. If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, don’t forget that the National Domestic Violence Hotline is there to help. You can call 1-800-799-SAFE, 1-800-787-3224 through TTY services, or use the live chat feature on its website.

Category: Society

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