How Safe Do You Feel At Home?

Here’s why there’s been an increase in domestic violence and child abuse during the pandemic.

Life during the COVID-19 pandemic is particularly challenging for people who are victims of domestic violence or child abuse. With no way to temporarily escape their abusers due to lockdowns and restrictions on social gatherings, far too many women, men and children are living in unsafe homes. Add to that the stress brought on during the pandemic due to health and financial concerns, as well as feeling a lack of control over life, and that can cause abuse to increase.

Abuse Is On the Rise

Domestic violence numbers are up across the country as families spend more time together than ever. The National Domestic Violence Hotline compared call statistics from April 2019 and April 2020 and noted a 15% increase in calls this April. In New York City, the original epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, domestic violence organizations noted that calls doubled or tripled during the lockdown.

Cities across the country are experiencing a similar increase in calls, as work-at-home orders are extended and virtual schooling becomes the new norm. A team of University of California at Los Angeles researchers studying crime statistics in Los Angeles and Indianapolis discovered a significant increase in domestic violence calls in both cities as a result of the virus. Their research appeared in the May-June issue of the Journal of Criminal Justice.

“We know that domestic violence is rooted in power and control,” Katie Ray-Jones, CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, told Time. “Right now, we are all feeling a lack of control over our lives and an individual who cannot manage that will take it out on their victim.”

What Abusers May Do 

When abusers feel out of control, they may increase the amount or frequency of physical or emotional abuse they inflict on family members. They may also:

  • Drink or use drugs more often, which can increase the incidence of abuse
  • Make strict and often illogical rules about family routines
  • Restrict access to food or even the bathroom
  • Hold children to impossible standards and lash out if they make too much noise or need help with schoolwork
  • Take digital devices away from family members to prevent them from reaching out for help
  • Closely monitor phone calls and videoconferencing apps, even if they’re being used for work
  • Hide shoes, clothing or car keys if they fear that family members may try to flee
  • Take away health insurance cards to prevent family members from receiving medical care for their injuries
  • Tell family members they’ll catch coronavirus if they go to the ER or doctor’s office
  • Withhold masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) to prevent family members from leaving home

What to Do about Abuse

Creating a safety plan is a good idea if you live with an abuser or you’re concerned about a friend or family member who you suspect is being abused. The plan should include strategies that can help you stay safe if you’re in an abusive relationship and should also detail the steps to take if you need to leave your home. The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers an interactive safety planning feature that provides step-by-step guidance.

It’s also wise to familiarize yourself with shelters and other services for domestic violence victims in your area. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides a state-by-state resource list to make it easier to find help.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, help is still available if you or your children are being abused. Don’t hesitate to reach out to local shelters and domestic abuse organizations if you feel that your life is in jeopardy. It’s important to get out of an abusive situation when you can and you shouldn’t let fear of COVID-19 stop you from getting the help you need.

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Date Last Reviewed: August 12, 2020

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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