Domestic Violence and COVID-19: the Silent Crisis

In a year fraught with crisis after crisis, there is still another social problem which demands more awareness — and you probably haven’t thought of it.

I. COVID-19 and the News Cycle

2020 has been a total mess of a year. It can be hard to keep up with it as the news cycle moves at warp speed.

Nevertheless, COVID-19 has dominated much of that cycle: death rates; infection rates; hopefully, a vaccine; lockdowns; “flattening the curve”; the unemployment crisis. You’ve also likely heard of the more tertiary crises fueled by the Pandemic, like the eviction crisis and the potential explosion of homelessness. Indeed, the virus has thrown a wrench into everything.

There is yet another social problem thrust into starker relief because of the lockdowns, and you probably haven’t thought much about it — that’s perfectly understandable, as there has been little national coverage of it and very sporadic local coverage across the country.

That problem is domestic violence.

II. Domestic Violence Pre-Lockdown

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the CDC, an average of twenty people per minute (most are women aged eighteen to twenty-four) are abused by a spouse or intimate partner. That equates to nearly ten million men and women per year and more than 20,000 calls to domestic violence hotlines every single day.

Breaking these numbers down further, we see one in three women and one in four men being subjected to some form of physical violence (shoves, slaps, punches, etc.). One in seven women and one in twenty-five men are injured by a partner and one in ten women being the victim of a rape or sexual assault by a partner.

Data on that last metric for male victims — as is the case with sex crimes perpetuated against them by someone who is not a partner — is extremely difficult to come by, let alone verify. The estimation is one in seventy-one men and one in five women will be raped in their lifetimes. Survivors of any gender very often don’t report being a victim because of social stigma and the mistaken notion that when it is domestic in origin it is purely an individual and family matter.

One in four women and one in seven men are subjected to more serious but not fatal forms of domestic abuse — like beatings or strangulations — by a partner in their lifetime. One in seven women and one in eighteen men have been stalked by a partner to the point they felt their life or the life of a family member or friend was in jeopardy.

One study found that twenty percent of domestic violence homicides were not the partner “but family members, friends, neighbors, persons who intervened, law enforcement responders, or bystanders”. Seventy-two percent of murder-suicides involved a partner — Ninety-four percent of the victims in that seventy-two percent are women. Only thirty-four percent of victims receive medical care.

One in fifteen children are exposed to some form of domestic violence every year. All these types of domestic violence account for fifteen percent of all violent crime every year in the United States, with an estimated cost to the economy of $8.3 billion and over eight million missed work hours per year.

Those numbers say nothing of the harder to quantify individual costs (PTSD, depression, suicidal ideation) or even the strain on the plethora of social services that deal with the problem.

III. Domestic Violence and Control

The one central thread that all domestic violence has running through it is isolation of the victim.

The abuser will do what they can to control the victim’s social life, finances, access to family and community (church as an example), access to emergency and other social services that could end the hell they live through, and even their job. All this is an effort to maintain the greatest degree of control possible over the victim.

Control, isolation, and the fear that comes with them is what keeps the sick cycle of abuse churning.

IV. Domestic Violence and the Lockdowns

There is one facet of domestic violence during the lockdowns that was — to put it mildly — paradoxical.

According to LMH Health — a 174 bed hospital out of Lawrence, Kansas — since the Pandemic hit, they initially saw virtually no cases of domestic violence. This may have appeared to be a good trend on its face, but it was an insidious one.

This trend occurred precisely because the most vulnerable have been unable to leave their homes and — as a shelter worker in Carbondale, Pennsylvania put it — “people just hunkered down”.

COVID-19 has also meant drastically smaller operating capacities for local shelters. This makes it much harder for those who need a shelter to find one take them in. It has further equaled places like LMH Health getting more creative with how they discharge patients and the attendant planning — sometimes going beyond the city of Lawrence to find an open shelter or even putting them up in a hotel.

One New Mexico shelter has seen a near 100% increase in demand. Even the most geographically isolated state — Hawaii — has not been immune from this trend.

Many areas saw dramatic increases in calls for help to hotlines. An advocacy organization local to Sacramento, California has seen monthly calls on their hotline rise by roughly a third.

Domestic homicides in King County, Washington have hit sixteen this year (as of October 22) compared to seven in all of 2019 and seven in all of 2018. Other areas are seeing similar trends.

Other areas — like St. Joseph County, Indiana — have created their own special task forces composed of officers and social workers to deal with domestic violence calls — which are often the most dangerous for officers too as emotions run high.

The Department of Justice gave special grants to twenty-two different police departments to set these task forces up. St. Joseph County’s only cost $470,000.

Meanwhile, court delays are another problem exacerbating domestic violence in the Pandemic. This means vital protective measures for victims like orders of protection were delayed with court houses being closed, attorneys case loads dramatically increasing when lockdowns were lifted, and victims being fearful to venture to those court orders to begin with because they feared getting sick.

V. Historical Increases in Domestic Violence

This is a lockdown-related problem we had every reason to see coming. There is a tendency for domestic violence to increase whenever families spend more time together, especially around holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Increases in domestic violence are also correlated with increases in other social problems like substance abuse and alcoholism. This is an international problem as well: Russia, for instance, saw a massive increase in drinking because of COVID-19.

VI. What Can Be Done

Domestic is a problem that lives in darkness. The Pandemic has just made that darkness even more pitch black.

One antidote to it is awareness (October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month). It is vital that each and every one of us be extra-aware of the problem during the Pandemic and try to help if you know someone who is going through it. Counter that person’s isolation; be there for them; let your empathy shine. Find resources to help by clicking here.

Former Contributing editor … Staff writer . half of Real Monsters podcast. #crime , #truecrime :

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