The COVID-19 Quarantine Can Exacerbate Domestic Violence Situations; Here’s How You Can be a Much-Needed Ally to Survivors
The COVID-19 Quarantine Can Exacerbate Domestic Violence Situations – Here’s How You Can be a Much-Needed Ally to Survivors
“I have yet to talk to a victim of domestic violence that hasn’t come to believe her middle name is ‘Bitch’ because that’s what she’s called all the time,” said Nancy Friauf, president and CEO of Partnership Against Domestic Violence (PADV) in Atlanta.
While domestic violence often starts with emotional abuse, it can snowball into many other forms. In addition to physical and sexual abuse we hear about most, abusers may also hurt pets and take their partner’s paychecks. They may isolate their partners from friends and family and gaslight them about why, asking why you want your sister to come over when she “flirts with me all the time.” After engaging in any form of abuse, they may apologize profusely and act like they’ll get better, and that they “can’t without you.”
Multiply that times 10 during the COVID-19 quarantine.
“It’s important to remember domestic violence is all about power and control. During a time of COVID when we’re all feeling out of control and powerless, it certainly makes sense that the person could well escalate that violence to regain that power and control,” said Friauf.’
“Another factor is that everyone is at home together,” Friauf continued. “During normal times we may be able to go to work and take the children to school or vent to other people; when we’re all stuck in the house together those breaks aren’t there, so tension and frustration and anger can build up and it’s more likely for the violence to erupt.”
To make matters worse, being stuck at home makes it harder for survivors to access resources without their abusers knowing. They may lie about where they’re going in order to get the support they need, which is dangerous in and of itself.
According to Friauf, survivors may have to say, “I’m going on a grocery run and you know how crowded it is,” in order to get away from their partner for an online support group.
Having children in the home is a further complication of domestic violence.
“Even if they don’t directly experience the violence, seeing the loved parent being hurt, it’s very frightening and very traumatic. We actually had a crisis line call during COVID from a mom who had been very violently attacked. She has three children, 6, 4 and 2. They ran across the street, got the neighbors, the neighbors had to physically pull the man off his wife,” Friauf said.
Children often don’t understand how to handle their emotions regarding the violence. Their feelings may manifest as anger and acting out.
According to Friauf, kids who have been potty trained may even lose that ability. Teenagers who witness violence are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior and even abuse others. “Especially for males growing up in homes where violence is present, they’re more likely to be perpetrators of violence,” Friauf said.
The survivor parent may not understand why their child is acting this way and punish them, but PADV helps explain this phenomenon to the parent to help them communicate better and get the support they need.
But domestic violence doesn’t only affect parents or families. Women between ages 16 and 24 specifically experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence, which is almost triple the national average. Further, 43 percent of college women report dating abuse. While people of other genders can also be survivors, women are predominantly affected.
Friauf believes that as we see less cases of COVID-19 and as Gov. Kemp lifts the stay-at-home orders, more survivors will call hotlines and move to shelters.
“When people are in the COVID crisis and worrying how do you get it, for many going to a shelter feels even more scary. It’s something abusers use against their victims. They might say, ‘How dare you think of getting my children around this disease?’”
Further, the most dangerous time for a survivor is when they leave. It takes away power and control the abuser wants. On average, survivors go back to their abusers seven times before leaving for good because of the dangers and predicaments their abuser puts them in.
For example, according to Friauf, abusers may move themselves and their partner multiple times creating a poor lease record, making it hard for survivors to get housing on their own. In addition, the abuser may threaten to kill the survivor, the kids or the survivor’s family.
However, the abuse’s severity during quarantine could be a turning point for some survivors, and PADV can help.
“In addition to providing emergency shelter, we provide housing in the community where they can get their own apartment and lease, and we continue to help with rent and other support,” Friauf said.
Those services are crucial for survivors.
“I’m so thankful I could do this because I don’t think I would’ve survived with my abuser had I stayed home in this quarantine period,” said one survivor in her thirties who received emergency housing at the start of the pandemic.
If you want to help, you don’t have to be involved with a domestic violence organization or provide housing. Just be open-minded, nonjudgmental and supportive.
Friauf wants you to know that you may not understand why your loved one is staying in that abusive relationship, but that the abuse and their reason for staying is more complicated than you may realize. Some examples include the financial and safety reasons listed above. Survivors may also feel shame, so you shouldn’t make them feel worse about not leaving.
However, you can still serve as a compassionate ally, regardless of your loved one’s location, regardless of their living situation and regardless of their desire for help. Some survivors may not believe they need help or they may be scared of the danger that will come with leaving, so be patient and don’t push them.
You can say, “I’m worried about you. I love you. I’m here for you if you ever want to talk. How can I help?” and provide resources, such as PADV’s support groups, hotline, housing programs, legal advocacy and more.
When calling the hotline, survivors don’t have to say their name or leave their abuser. Survivors can call the hotline for any domestic violence related reason 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Those answering the hotline can help with legal advocacy but can’t provide immediate safety. They’ll answer saying, “PADV crisis line, are you safe?”
Be mindful that some types of support can further strip the survivor of their feelings of power and control. It’s important to not force a survivor to get help or move out; let them take the lead and support them in their decisions, even if you don’t understand or agree. With male survivors, because our culture is centered on toxic masculinity, it can be helpful to remind them that abuse amongst boys and men is also common and that asking for help is brave.
If you’d like to learn more about helping survivors of domestic violence, you can watch PADV’s Facebook Live videos.
For more real-life scenarios and resources, see this No More website and consider attending a training. One three-day, interactive training is called “Domestic Violence: What Every Front-line Advocate Should Know,” and costs $100 for non-members. PADV also offers online trainings that focus on the basics and include course documents.
Friauf wants survivors to know this: “When you’re in a DV situation you can feel hopeless and stuck and it’s a very dark place. You can feel that there’s no hope and that it’s going to be like that forever.
No, there is a path to hope for a new life and it can be better. Just take that first step. Talk to a friend. Call our hotline. Just take that first step. Then little by little, you can take that road to a better life.”