Many victims may be trapped at home with an abuser, which can make it that much harder for them to seek help or get out.
As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the country and stay-at-home orders are put in place, many of us are slowly starting to become accustomed to this new "normal." Unfortunately, also due to these orders, it leaves many victims of abuse in very vulnerable positions where they're either trapped with their abusers or don't have contact with those who are usually there to listen and provide help.
And that shouldn't be considered "normal."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four women and one in seven men in the U.S. have been the victim of "severe physical violence by an intimate partner." However, abuse is not always violent. Domestic violence is defined as any "physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person," according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Domestic violence can also come in the form of child abuse or neglect.
Experts are saying that these victims could possibly suffer from "unintended consequences" due to the quarantines and lockdowns.
"In times of crisis, domestic violence increases, and this particular situation is almost like the most perfect tsunami you can ever imagine," said Alice Lutz, CEO of Triangle Family Services in North Carolina. "We have almost created a hostage situation because with COVID-19 and with shelter-in-place, the victims are now in many instances trapped with the offenders."
Schools, churches, organized sports, work, etc., are normally places where victims feel comfortable enough to share their abuse with people they feel comfortable with—but those places are now closed, leaving them without an escape route or safety net.
"It’s a lot more difficult because you have to have the means to get out of the home, have a reason to leave," said Rep. Sydney Batch. "And if the abuser is home with you—and a lot of times if the abuser is abusing children—it makes it much harder to come up with a safety plan and escape a really harmful situation.”
Marianne Hester, a sociologist at Bristol University who studies abusive relationships, echoed this and told The New York Times that domestic violence increases whenever families spend more time together, like during the holiday season. However, now that families are under quarantine and lockdown together, many hotlines are ringing like crazy by the abuse reports.
One nonprofit, located in Washington, D.C., has been "overwhelmed" by the number of calls they've received over the last month, according to The Washington Post. Called D.C. Safe, the nonprofit "coordinates emergency victim services in response to requests from 17 federal and local agencies, including court clerks, police and hospitals."
"We literally don't have enough response-line phones to go around," Executive Director Natalia Otero told The Post.
Likewise, the National Domestic Violence Hotline has received an average of nearly 2,000 calls every day. Officials say that if there's an increase in calls, that could mean violence is as well; a drop could mean that victims don’t feel safe enough at home to call for help.
However, those who are unable to call a hotline are resorting to other methods of getting help. In both France and Spain, victims are being told to head to drugstores and pharmacies and use code words, such as "mask 19," to discreetly ask the pharmacist behind the counter for help if they're unable to talk openly in the store.
Countless domestic violence hotlines are listed on the National Domestic Violence Hotline's website, by state, that can provide help.
With stay-at-home orders being put in place across the country, it's even more important now than ever that we all check in with our friends, loved ones, and neighbors. Give them a call, start up a Zoom or FaceTime chat, just check in with them and make sure that they're okay. Should you be concerned that someone you know is suffering from domestic abuse, the National Domestic Violence Hotline has a list of warning signs and ways to offer support and help.