And the deluge of stress and fear -- of unemployment, of sickness, of death -- is only intensifying the abuse they face.
The services designed to support even the most isolated of these victims are struggling to help from a distance.
is the perfect storm for someone who wants to isolate or hurt their
partners," said Val Kalei Kanuha, assistant dean of Diversity, Equity
and Inclusion at the University of Washington's School of Social Work.
Abuse survivors are familiar with the rules of social isolation already. Now, the pandemic is doing the work for abusers.
Domestic violence will likely increase in social isolation
The frequency and severity of domestic abuse
will likely increase while Americans stay home for weeks or months
during the pandemic, said Katie Ray-Jones, president and CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, a service that connects victims of domestic violence with local resources.
said the hotline saw an uptick in reports of partner abuse during the
2008 recession as unemployment surged. But then, victims weren't told to
shut themselves in with their abusers.
calls National Hotline staff have received since the start of state
shutdowns are startling, Ray-Jones said: One woman said when she tried
to go to work at an essential business, her abusive partner began to
load his firearm to scare her into staying. Another said that her
partner threatened to expose her to the virus on purpose and swore he
wouldn't pay for treatment if she fell ill.
Communities under stay-at-home orders are already reporting higher call volumes to local domestic violence resources.
New York's Nassau County, east of New York City, domestic violence
incidents are already up 10% compared to this time last year, Nassau
County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder told CNN affiliate WLNY. And Cincinnati-based organization Women Helping Women is receiving 30% more calls now since self-isolation started, CNN affiliate WCPO reported.
Stress heightens the likelihood for violence
Domestic violence cases spike in times of prolonged stress and disruption, like financial crises and natural disasters.
most Americans have never lived through anything quite like the
Covid-19 pandemic, said Margaret Bassett, director of the Expert Witness
Program at the University of Texas at Austin's Institute on Domestic
Violence & Sexual Assault.
is a really stressful time," Bassett said. "And the more stress that a
family experiences, there's a greater risk for escalation on the part of
a person who's abusive."
Some of that stress has driven people to firearms dealers and liquor stores.
often use firearms to frighten victims, whether or not they use them,
Ray-Jones said. But even an abuser's possession of a firearm makes it
five times more likely that a domestic violence victim will be killed,
according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
A record 3.28 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits this week -- and unemployment is strongly tied to alcohol use disorder. A 2013 study reported that as unemployment rates rise, so do dangerous drinking behaviors. And the World Health Organization said evidence suggests that excessive alcohol consumption worsens the severity and frequency of domestic violence.
Coronavirus throws a wrench in victims' plans
find ways to isolate victims without "shelter in place" mandates. But
during any other time victims could still access resources like
counselors and shelters.
so simple for survivors to up and leave their abuser either, and
especially now, when access to hospitals and shelters is limited, Kanuha
assault victims may be hesitant to go to a hospital to receive a rape
kit, with hospitals operating at full capacity and physicians pleading
with the public to avoid burdening the health care system.
typically advocates and counselors are on hand for support throughout
the rape kit process. That isn't possible anymore, said Laura Pelumbo,
communications director at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
Many courts are closed, too, so requests for restraining orders are indefinitely delayed.
victims plan their exit strategies for months. They secretly save money
and make arrangements to move with their counselors' help. But the
pandemic will almost certainly interrupt those plans by draining those
funds, Ray-Jones said.
Child abuse is more prevalent
children of abuse victims know where to go to get away from the
violence: School, an after-school activity, a friend's house. Anywhere
Now that they've got nowhere to go, children's risk of abuse
is heightened, said Jeffrey Edleson, professor and dean emeritus at the
University of California-Berkeley's School of Social Welfare.
of the options that battered women and their children use as safety
valves to get away from violence are no longer available," he told CNN.
social ties they rely on for relief are severed. Teachers, coaches and
allies outside the home who may have reported the abuse aren't with them
every day. Parents may go so far as to cut off their access to
electronics, which most American students now use to complete
schoolwork, he said.
"A lot of
young adults I've spoken with who've been exposed to violence at home
often find close friends, friends' parents, relatives and teachers who
are supportive of them," he said. "It helps buffer the impact of what's
going on at home. But all of that is missing."
child abuse has already been reported. In Fort Worth, Texas, a
children's hospital said last week they treated six severe child abuse
cases in the span of a week. Hospital staff said they typically see as
many patients over a month, CNN affiliate KTVT reported.
Sometimes it's the silence that's concerning. The Oregonian reported
that calls to Oregon's state child abuse hotline have dropped by more
than half, from 700 daily to 300 since the day the state's schools
closed. Child welfare advocates worry it's because they're not in
classrooms, where teachers can report abuse on their behalf.
in families where conflict has never escalated to violence, children
are now at a higher risk of physical abuse because of additional
stressors like unemployment, Edleson said.
"That conflict can be pushed to a physical level," he said. "And especially closed in small quarters."
How services are adjusting
regional and national coalitions are still operating as essential
organizations under several states' stay-at-home orders, but the way
they deliver their services has changed.
most cases, it's no longer possible for victims to meet with case
workers, and many women's shelters have stopped accepting new clients to
protect their current residents, Ray-Jones said.
victims are relying on hotlines to report their abuse and find help --
but only those who are still able to safely contact them.
once the stay-at-home orders are lifted, Ray-Jones said she expects
victims to flood hotlines. T
They may not know how many victims there are
until the coronavirus pandemic is over.
with abusive partners don't reach out for help until the holidays are
over," Ray-Jones said. "We think there's going to be a huge surge,
potentially, once quarantines are lifted and people are returning to
So social workers are
preparing now, transitioning to remote work where they can and getting
resources -- numbers to call, mental health services available -- in the
hands of victims.
But there are still victims that advocates can't reach.
That's where all of us come in, Kanuha said.
Family, friends, coworkers or neighbors should reach out to them
and advocate on their behalf. Print out resources. Call a hotline if
you fear for their safety. If you work together, seek them out under the
guise of a work matter and ask how they're doing. Listen rather than
responding right away, Kanuha said.
let people share and talk and ask for what they need, and then you can
figure out if you can help them," she said. "The best place to start is
just to listen."
blanket approach to help all victims of abuse. Their identities, whether
they're a child or adult, identify as LGBTQ+, are differently abled or
an undocumented immigrant, change the help they need and are able to
get, Kanuha said.
Covid-19 is another variable in their lives now. But it's one abuse victims share with nearly everyone.
Resources for victims of domestic violence
National Domestic Violence Hotline Call 1-800-799-7233 or text LOVEIS to 22522
Available 24/7. Can connect callers with local resources and immediate support. Also available through online chat tool.
National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-4673
Provided by RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network). Available 24/7. Also available through online chat tool.
Crisis Text Line Text HOME to 741741
Available 24/7 for victims of abuse and any other type of crisis.
Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-422-4453
Available 24/7 in 170 different languages.
Office on Women's Health Helpline 1-800-994-9662
A resource provided by the US Department of Health & Human Services.