The novel coronavirus has created serious challenges for all of us, but some face more risk than others. One group at risk we do not hear much about in the news: people in an abusive relationship.
Domestic violence affects millions of couples in our nation, ranging from emotional or psychological abuse to acts of physical harm. As this article details, the pandemic exacerbates the tensions of already difficult relationships.
With so many stay-at-home orders in place, victims of domestic abuse will be isolated with their abusers. In normal times, a victim of abuse could escape to go to work, to stay with a friend, or if necessary, go to a shelter. Just having the ability to remove oneself from the situation can diminish the incidents of abuse and calm tensions. Conversely, eliminating this option increases the risk that abuse will occur, and more frequently.
The pandemic has increased fear and stress, and these anxieties spill into abusive relationships. The fear of contracting the virus may encourage a controlling spouse to limit the movement or actions of the other spouse in a small space even more. The loss of a job or the added financial stress will likely increase the risk of more acts of violence and the likelihood that they will get out of control.
Given the increased risk of abuse, the victim will want to escape the situation, but under current public health orders, that becomes more difficult. A victim will not want to risk going to the home of an older parent or relative, in the event that the victim may carry the virus. And friends may be less open to sheltering a victim because of fear of contracting the virus. And some shelters may have temporarily closed because of regulations on gatherings. As a result, a victim is not safe in the house or outside the house.
Hotline calls would be a common source of outreach and help, but with self-isolation, a victim may find it hard to place a call outside the presence of the abuser. Additionally, the availability of hotline callers may be diminished during the current crisis.
With all of these difficulties, what should a victim of abuse do? Experts state that every victim must become more creative in calming tensions, but also they need a definitive escape plan if danger mounts, as at some point the risk of exposure to the virus may be less risky than the risk of physical harm in the house.
We hope that as we provide resources during the crisis, government agencies increase funding to nonprofits that shelter victims of domestic violence so we do not see a rise in these indirect virus tragedies.
If you have questions about domestic violence, contact us – we can help.