With the outbreak of Covid-19 cities around the world have gone into lock down. The CDC and World Health Organization have released guidelines for how people can help slow the spread of the virus. These recommendations include frequent hand washing, use of hand sanitizer, and cloth face masks. They also have asked that people remain in their homes as much as possible to ‘flatten the curve’. These measures not only slow the spread but also help us protect the most medically fragile among us. Unfortunately, lock down protocols fail to take into consideration another vulnerable population. This has unfortunately led to domestic violence surges during the Coronavirus lockdowns.
Initial Drops in Reporting Are Misleading
As local governments put shelter in place orders into effect, some cities actually saw a decrease in reports of domestic violence. One Massachusetts hotline for survivors, SafeLink, saw a 15% drop in call volume from January to February. But experts said this drop was the calm before the storm.
“People at risk of abuse might not have access to the supports and services they might normally have been able to take advantage of,” Philip Cohen, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland, told The Hill. Cohen believes that law enforcement reporting “is lower for some of the same reasons the abuse rate might be higher”. For many survivors, work or school are their only escape from their abuser.
Trapped at home, their abuser is able to keep tabs on their every movement in ways they weren’t able to before. They have lost every shred of privacy they once might have had. Finding a private moment to make a call to report their abuser is even more difficult. Once a survivor could have reported their abuser in a conversation with a coworker. Now, a survivor now has to try to make a call from inside the home they share with their abuser. With the price of failure being further violence, many survivors fear that reaching out could do more harm than good.
Reports Are on the Rise
Even cities that once reported a decrease are now reporting a dramatic spike in domestic violence. In her article for The Hill, Rachel Bucchino states, ‘ The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) reported a 12.4 percent decrease in domestic violence crime involving intimate partner aggravated and simple assault from January to February. Those figures then rose by 7.6 percent from February to March.’
Other cities have seen a much more dramatic spike. Bucchino says ‘The Dallas Police Department reported a 20.3 percent increase in domestic violence reports from February to March’. Seattle and Boston saw a 21 and 22 percent increase in the same time frame. Sadly, many believe even these rises, as shocking as they may be, are actually much lower than the reality.
This may be due in part to the efforts of local and national domestic violence hotlines to reach housebound survivors. Marie Sadanaga, an LAPD detective and domestic violence coordinator, told Bucchino, “LAPD along with all [domestic violence] service providers are trying to educate the community that we are still here and operating during the pandemic. Some services have moved to telephonic only, such as victim advocacy and legal services, but they are still working.” Social media and other outlets are echoing this sentiment and reminding survivors that help is out there, and not to give up hope.
Coronavirus Fears Fuel Violence
Jill Messing, a professor of social work at Arizona State University, told Bucchino, “If we think about domestic violence, it’s about power and control. And so anytime there’s something that an abuser can use to increase that power and control, I think that they would use it.” Its true that the lock down may cause some new cases of abuse to arise. However, experts feel it is most likely a simple case of the virus making an already bad situation worse.
Stay-at-home orders have forced schools and businesses to close their doors. When speaking about what has caused the domestic violence surges with coronavirus, Bucchino said ‘the lockdowns that have either confined people to their homes or cost them their jobs are contributing factors, experts said. They pointed to unemployment, health concerns and the added stress of having children at home and out of school as factors that can exacerbate abuse conditions’. The uncertainty of how long the lock down will last also has people on edge. This high level of prolonged stress only makes abusers more prone to violence.
Fear of Exposure
Abusers are experts in manipulation. Many are taking advantage of the current situation to exert greater control over their victims. Aileen Robinson, domestic violence operations coordinator for the Chicago Police Department, told Bucchino, “We already know that abusers are using this as a tool to manipulate not only victims, but law enforcement”. She said abusers are threatening to purposefully expose their victims to the virus or to throw them out if they become ill.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline says abusers may use the virus to further isolate victims from their children, family, and friends. Survivors also commonly report their abuser using concerns over money to withhold financial resources and medical attention. They may use fear of exposing others to the virus to discourage victims from seeking help.
Seek Legal Advice
If you or someone you know is the victim of domestic abuse, you may be in need of legal assistance. Escaping an abusive situation is no easy task. Once physically separated from your abuser, you may also need to legally separate yourself from them as well. This can be especially complicated if your abuser is a spouse or life partner with whom you have children.
If you are facing a divorce or child custody and child support case against your abuser, it pays to have an expert family law attorney by your side. They will be knowledgeable in how to collect and present evidence to prove a history of abuse in the relationship. An experienced attorney, like those at Illaraza Law, will help you protect your rights and your children.