As government leaders worldwide called for millions of people to stay at home to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, domestic violence experts warned that people remaining in close quarters under mounting stress would likely bring a significant rise in household violence. Unfortunately, these predictions came to pass. Since the start of the pandemic, domestic violence, particularly among intimate partners, has sharply risen in the U.S. and around the world.
Domestic abuse hotlines throughout the U.S. report being increasingly overwhelmed with calls and texts. In addition to heightened violence against women and children, Katie Ray-Jones, the CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, told TIME magazine that abusers are using COVID-19 as an excuse to isolate their victims from friends and family, and are even withholding medical and financial resources.
Under normal circumstances, people in abusive situations can sometimes escape their situation by fleeing to relatives or friends’ homes, or a women’s shelter. However, given the risk of spreading the virus to at-risk relatives or friends, this option isn’t feasible for many. Moreover, most shelters are open but aren’t welcoming newcomers because they’re at capacity or fear spreading the virus.
Given these circumstances, many callers to abuse hotlines aren’t trying to leave home immediately. Rather, they are seeking advice on how to calm their abuser, secretly save money, develop secret code words with their children, and make long-term plans for leaving, among other things.
Local leaders and domestic violence activists are scrambling to come up with creative solutions to help people grappling with this situation. In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot developed a new partnership with Airbnb to provide hotel rooms for people who need to escape violence at home. The Salvation Army in Dallas-Fort Worth uses food delivery as a way of maintaining contact with people who have signaled that they are facing abuse. In France and Spain, pharmacists developed a code word for women to use during the pandemic to ask for help if they are being abused at home.
Lockdowns are lifting around the world, but tensions remain high and the situation remains precarious for many people living with abusers. If you need help with a violent situation, contact the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE to get advice and support.