As COVID-19 began to blaze its way around the globe, countries around the world went into widespread lockdown. Safer at home orders often required businesses and schools to shutter their doors to prevent or slow the spread of the virus.
Courthouses and shelters were closed, and jails and prisons began releasing some inmates to decrease the chance of a devastating outbreak inside prison walls. People worldwide were required to retreat to the safety of their homes to stem the rising tide of infections and fatalities.
But, for countless women, children, and men, home is not a haven and sheltering in place may well be more dangerous than the virus itself.
A Global Scourge
The coronavirus has been top of mind for healthcare providers, policymakers, and government leaders for months now. But the reality is that we were fighting a global pandemic long before COVID-19 emerged.
Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a reality that affects tens of millions of people around the world every year. And the irony is that IPV is not only always easy to identify. It doesn’t have to involve beatings or outright sexual assault. It can pertain to more subtle acts of physical aggression, such as pushing and shoving, pinching, and hair-pulling.
But IPV doesn’t have to involve physical or sexual contact at all. Verbal, emotional, or psychological abuse can be just as debilitating. And, in the end, the common core linking all forms of IPV is the effort to coerce and control, isolate and intimidate, and debase and demoralize.
And, now that the whole world has gone into lockdown, abusers have more opportunities to exercise their preferred form of violence, while victims have few options for escape. The result has been skyrocketing rates of domestic violence around the world since the coronavirus pandemic began.
A Heightened Risk
While it is true that anyone can be a victim of IPV, studies show that the most vulnerable are racial and ethnic minorities, the poor, and members of the LGBTQ community. These are also the same populations that are disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in other ways.
Marginalized communities face particularly high rates of unemployment, as well as soaring rates of infection, hospitalization, and deaths related to COVID-19. Because of this, victims likely now have even fewer financial resources or social support options to escape a potentially worsening situation at home.
But there is cause for hope. In Latin American communities, where domestic violence has been an intractable and ubiquitous problem, lockdown-related surges in IPV have been met with the emergence of innovative ad hoc solutions designed to quickly and safely extricate victims from the danger zone.
In the U.S., likewise, housing assistance programs have a long and successful history of helping single parents and low-income families. In the wake of the pandemic, access to these resources is being fast-tracked for women and children in immediate danger at home.
The first and best place to turn for access to these resources is the National Domestic Violence Hotline. The NDVH is actively working to tailor its services specifically to the unprecedented realities of the pandemic and the special needs that survivors of domestic violence will have as they seek safety in the face of this lockdown.
For those who need to get out of the home quickly, but who can’t bear, or can’t afford to leave essential possessions behind, there are a host of options for moving and storing your belongings in order to mitigate moving stress.
Professional moving and storage companies can be hired to pack up and move your belongings for you so that you don’t have to be present with your abuser and you don’t have to endure the added stress of the process. To be certain, those services can be costly, but women’s shelters and other domestic violence organizations in your community may be able to help you cover the expenses.
What matters, above all, is getting help, because the threat will only increase as the days pass.
The virus, and the lockdowns that have followed, have created prime conditions for violence, as financial and psychological strain have mutated for too many people into anger and loss of control. This is combined with an increase in drug and alcohol abuse as people spend more time at home, which only amplifies further the threat of violence.
What this means is that, no matter what, when you are facing IPV, the most important thing is to get yourself and, if you have children and pets, to get your babies out safely. As difficult as that may be in the face of a pandemic, help is still out there.
Shelters are ready and waiting and, though they may be operating at limited capacity, they have pandemic plans and resources in place to help those in need. Shelters are using temperature checks, mandatory masking, and short-term private hotel room stays to keep victims safe from the abuser and the virus.
Around the world, national and local governments have been forced to issue unprecedented lockdowns in order to protect their communities from the profound threat of COVID-19. In so doing, though, they have exposed tens of millions of people to other and perhaps even more significant dangers. Intimate partner violence is, unfortunately, nothing new. However, in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, victims are being confined with their abusers. And, as psychological strains mount and rates of substance abuse rise, the conditions inside abusive homes worldwide are only going to grow more dangerous. The time to protect victims, the time to save lives, the time to free innocent women, men, and children from the hands of the perpetrator, is right now.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.