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April 6, 2020

Social Isolation May Put Additional Strain on Domestic Violence Victims

Different members from Women’s Advocates’ Staff periodically write posts on topics that are relevant to the work we do as an organization.  While Women’s Advocates is supported by Grant No. A-CVS-2018-WOMADV-00013, awarded by the Office on Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs – the opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice.  

The nationwide coronavirus outbreak has affected everyone’s life from layoffs, company closings, reduced income, to the inability to attend community events, a night out with friends or church services. It is true that COVID-19 is affecting everyone. So imagine the additional strain of always being able to look forward to the time when your abusive partner goes to work. Now that partner is always at home. Relationships become difficult and the potential for violence increases.

Emotional, Verbal Abuse and Threats Are Abuse.

Emotional abuse and threats have a powerful and detrimental effect on victims. The goal of this type of abuse is often to gain control over the victim, and it may precede physical violence. Amidst COVID-19, many of us feel fear and uncertainty but these conditions of isolation may exacerbate the abuser’s already existing fear of losing control over another person. Abusers get their power from controlling their victims. This includes controlling access to family and friends or access to finances. They may also incite fear in their victims by means of subtle or not so subtle threats. A common situation that experienced advocates have all encountered is the victim with immigration issues whose abuser threats to call immigration authorities if the victim does not comply with their commands or expectations.

Due to the coronavirus outbreak and Stay at Home provisions, abusers have found new ways to instill fear in their victims through threats and harm that are specific to the coronavirus. For example, an article by the New York Times cited a situation where a victim was told by her abuser that he would throw her out of the house if she went to work rather than working from home. Another victim was told he would throw her and her things out onto the street if she coughed and then she would die alone in the hospital.

How Supportive Systems and Organizations for Survivors Are Being Impacted

In a Jezebel article, Katie Ray-Jones, National Domestic Violence Hotline’s CEO, reports that the Hotline has had already seen an increase in clients who report that partners are using the threat of COVID-19 to as she puts it further isolate, increase fear and manipulate their victims. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is not experiencing an overall increase in calls, potentially due to the safety concerns that arise with seeking help while in an abusive home.

A CNBC article reports that New York Domestic Programs, as well as those in New Jersey, are experiencing a decline in calls for shelter. Many advocates believe that residents are fearful of contracting the virus in a shelter and/or it is unsafe for them to seek safety from a violent home. Other parts of the country are seeing an increase in calls, including Washington DC and Connecticut.

Even though some victims feel forced to remain in an unsafe home, reports show that most shelters are operating at capacity, but now have new challenges. In Washington State, YWCA CEO, Miriam Barnett is answering domestic violence calls for her organization, most of the rest of her staff is working from home. Their shelter is still operating, but communal spaces such as the laundry room and food bank are limited to one person at a time, followed by extra sanitizing by staff. The YWCA’s support groups and it’s therapeutic children’s Program have had to be put on hold. The Y has had to cancel a major fundraiser and the 55 unit housing project to provide low-income families with housing may have to be delayed.

If you would like to learn more about how Women’s Advocates is responding to COVID-19 as an organization, click here

Help is Available. Keep Yourself, Family, and Community Safe.

  • MN Day One Crisis Line call 1-866-223-1111 or text 612-399-9995
  • MN Crime Victim Support Line 1-866-385-2699 or text 612-399-9977
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline. 1-800-799-7233
  • Contact a domestic violence program or shelter to have an advocate assist you in developing a safety plan and connecting to resources.
    • Call Women’s Advocates 24-hour crisis line at 651-227-8284
    • Or use myPlan app/website to develop a safety plan using an Interactive Safety Tool by clicking here.
  • Learn more about how COVID-19 has impacted domestic violence survivors and resources available by clicking here.
  • Learn more about Family and Dating Violence by viewing Women’s Advocates short yet informative online mini video series, click here to watch the videos.

News sources mentioned in this blog:

Written by Jill Mantor (jmantor@wadvocates.org), Crisis Resource Advocate at Women’s Advocates 
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