Mere weeks after its first emergence into the global news cycle, the side effects of the coronavirus pandemic are already multifold. Aside from the as-yet-unknown longterm impacts on both physical and mental health and growing anxiety and misinformation about how the virus is contracted, spread and contained, we’ve already seen a tremendous economic fallout. Small and large businesses alike—as well as public institutions like museums, theaters, arenas and more are already suffering major setbacks and being forced to lay off their workforces.
But another danger of this pandemic may be far closer to home. As citizens are increasingly encouraged to stay indoors for all but essential activities, experts and advocates for victims of domestic violence fear there may arguably be an equal or more dangerous threat within many households. As pointed out in a USA Today article titled “Self-isolation during the coronavirus outbreak: What do you do when the bigger danger is at home?” published Wednesday:
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men in the U.S. have been victims of violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime, which it defines as rape, physical violence or stalking. Nearly 9 out of 10 incidents of family violence happens in the home of the victim or the home of a friend, relative or neighbor, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The majority of spouse violence occurs in the victim’s home.
Deaths in the U.S. from the coronavirus have reached 115. In 2017, more than 2,237 people died in homicides at the hands of intimate partners.
In a climate in which the threat of the virus has not only escalated daily but many of us are already experiencing frustration at our losses of freedom, control, social interaction and, in many cases, income due to the pandemic, Ruth Glenn, president of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence told USA Today that existing victims of domestic violence are at heightened risk from their abusers:
“Because we are self-isolating, and particularly if the abusive person is self-isolating and has immediate proximity to the victim or survivor, there are various ways in which the risk element may go up...There are more means by which the abuser can abuse.”
Those means may not only include physical violence but virtual imprisonment, isolation from external support, withholding or manipulating financial resources, and even leveraging the threat of contagion to exert control over already vulnerable victims, as Time reported on Wednesday:
“My husband won’t let me leave the house,” a victim of domestic violence told a representative for the National Domestic Violence Hotline over the phone. “He’s had flu-like symptoms and blames keeping me here on not wanting to infect others or bringing something like COVID-19 home. But I feel like it’s just an attempt to isolate me.“
Those victims may also include children and minors now mandatorily isolated from support they might normally receive at schools which are now closed.
“We’re hearing concerns from people who are being isolated with their abusive partner because a lot of strategies that they use on a daily basis to survive the abusive relationship—their social network and support systems—they’re going away,” Katie Ray-Jones, chief executive officer of the National Domestic Violence Hotline told USA Today.
Furthermore, experts in the field agree communities of color are particularly vulnerable. While domestic violence occurs across all racial and ethnic demographics and is typically intraracial, a 2006 study by the Department of Justice (pdf) indicated that African-American women, in particular, experience intimate partner violence at a 35 percent higher rate than their white counterparts, and approximately 2.5 times the rate of women of other races. They are also less likely to seek help or report their abusers. Why?
“As a result of historical and present-day racism, African-American women may be less likely to report her abuser or seek help because of discrimination, African-American men’s vulnerability to police brutality, and negative stereotyping,” the study reported, among other reasons that included the possible influence of religion and the persistent myth that black women are domineering and strong, and therefore in need of greater discipline and control.
Additionally, low-income individuals already face danger compounded by a lack of financial mobility, as USA Today reports:
Low-income survivors are especially vulnerable during the outbreak, experts say. As restrictions tighten, many low-wage workers are seeing their jobs disappear. Many don’t have access to paid sick leave. Survivors who may have secretly been storing money for an apartment to escape to will be impacted by the loss of income.
For those individuals who also identify as LGBTQ, 2013 research by the National Center for Biotechnology Information further revealed an equal or heightened risk of domestic abuse compared to their heterosexual counterparts; a risk that could well be exacerbated for those seeking shelter and protection during a global health crisis.
“LGBTQ folks...face bias and discrimination when attempting to access shelter, particularly domestic violence shelter, which is typically geared towards cisgender straight women fleeing violence from their cisgender straight male partners,” Eliel Cruz, communications director at the New York City Anti-Violence Project, told USA Today. “At this time, shelter is even harder to access for everyone, which makes it more challenging for LGBTQ folks.”
What can be done to reduce the threat to some of our most vulnerable citizens during this time? Advocates are stressing the importance of keeping shelters open and ensuring that those shelters have the resources to remain in compliance with CDC recommendations, as online resources may not be realistic for victims during this time. For victims, they recommend having a plan in place as soon as possible and urge contacting the National Domestic Violence Hotline or other resources to receive guidance in doing so—a Twitter thread published last December by career consultant @bossy_britt also provides helpful and detailed instructions for victims attempting to escape from their accusers.
Most of all, it’s crucial that even in the midst of our own crises, the rest of us remain aware of the threat to many of our even more vulnerable neighbors, family members and friends and provide whatever help and support we can.
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers confidentially with trained advocates online or by phone (800-799-7233).