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Domestic Violence & COVID-19: The Perfect Storm

Avoiding public spaces and staying home might help stop the spread of COVID-19, but for many survivors of domestic violence, staying home is another, more personal, pandemic.

Home can be a dangerous place for domestic violence victims, most of which are children, women and LGBTQIA+ individuals.

Existing data has revealed an increase in sexual violence cases as well as an increase in calls to the domestic violence hotline number, specifically in marginalized communities.

It is important to remember that domestic violence was a global pandemic long before COVID-19.

Since February of this year, the UN has expressed enormous concern for women living in countries with fewer legislation preventing gender-based violence. These include places like the Middle East, North Africa and China where a large population of their citizens have been subject to domestic violence since a young age.

This spike in domestic violence reporting however can also justify the drop in formal complaints in countries like Chile and Bolivia. Places with preexisting gendered risks and vulnerabilities, as well as widened inequalities are often home to women who are hesitant to seek help or assistance due to movement restrictions of stay-at-home orders.

Today, rising numbers of individuals infected with COVID-19 as well as increased anxiety, unemployment, and financial stress has set the stage for a domestic violence crisis.

As a result of heightened stress, abusers have the ability to refer to an increased intake of drugs and alcohol or the purchase of guns as safety precautions, all of which can create a ticking time bomb. And with the separation of families and friends across our communities, these victims have found themselves stuck in violent environments, completely isolated from any possible resources.

As cities around the world have seen a dramatic increase in the need for social services like childcare offices, healthcare centers, sexual violence hotlines, and food banks, all of which are most likely both overwhelmed and understaffed. Unfortunately, until the governments can provide sufficient resources, people of vulnerable conditions will continue to be subject to the high likelihood of sexual violence.

It is no surprise that rates of domestic violence go up whenever families spend more time together during Christmas, Thanksgiving and summer vacations for example.

And now with families in a worldwide lockdown, it is important to advocate for our governments to address this crisis that they should have seen coming.

One can only hope that our elected officials of government and public offices will be mindful of the consequences in holding economics at a higher value than that of human lives during a global public health crisis. This pandemic has the power to open our eyes to the struggles that many victims of gender-based violence face in terms of mental health, financial stability, job security, and general safety.

In support of survivors and victims of domestic violence, we as a society must urge our government officials to incorporate a gender perspective as they respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Several organizations and campaigns around the world have already taken innovative steps to spread awareness as well as resources available to survivors. Many of these resources include hotlines, text message-based reporting as well as many mobile applications.

So what can those who have not been personally impacted by domestic violence do? How can we help those who are walking on eggshells in their own homes?

A huge way to help is to build a safe community around victims and survivors. If any of our readers know or suspect that someone suffers from domestic abuse, I encourage you to reach out and reassure them that you are a vital line of support and trust. By checking in with people regularly, you can keep an eye out for warning signs of abuse by partners or family members.

Speaking up and getting help is not easy, and there is an increasingly important need for us to listen and acknowledge the stories of victims and survivors.

We must remember that by believing survivors, we are pushing forward to creating a safe space for people to step up and talk about their stories, and consequently heal.

If you are unsure of what to say or how to go about speaking with a victim or survivor, RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) suggests their TALK acronym: Thank them for telling you; Ask how you can help; Listen without judgement; and Keep supporting them. 

Humans are social and emotional beings. We need community, and now is the time to stand together with a common mindset to help each other get through the fear and uncertainty of isolation.

Now more than ever, it is our job to look out for one another. Whether you’re a victim, a survivor or a supporter, please know that you’re not alone and that help is always available. Even in times like these, there is still hope and as human beings we must encourage each other to be there for one another.

If you or someone you know has experienced domestic or intimate partner violence, you can call the National Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-799-7233. Additional resources are available on its website. Here are also chat or text services you can reach either through the website or by texting LOVEIS to 222522, should you not be able to speak safely.

— Rachael Bailey, Intern, she/her

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