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COVID-19, Quarantine and Domestic Violence

domestic-abuse-los-angeles-300x200With the ongoing threat of COVID-19 dominating the news cycles these days, an important related news story has been inadvertently buried amid the headlines. Some have tried to accentuate the positive behind stay-at-home orders as an opportunity to spend more time with family and loved ones, but for many households dealing with various degrees of dysfunction, quarantine has made a bad situation much worse—marked by a notable spike in the number of domestic violence incidents.

As reported by NPR, the U.N. warned that they were aware of “a horrifying surge in domestic violence” in the weeks following lockdowns around the globe. South Africa reported 90,000 incidents of violence against women in the first week following their quarantine orders. Reports out of Turkey indicate murder rates against women have increased significantly since their stay-at-home orders were issued in early March. Many countries have reported double the volume of calls to their domestic abuse hotlines. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Here in the U.S., the numbers seem to confirm this trend as overall reports of DV are on the rise here, as well. NBC News reports at least 18 law enforcement agencies out of 22 contacted have reported significant increases in domestic violence calls—ranging between 18-35 percent higher from city to city.

Numbers Don’t Tell the Whole Story

Ironically, a few cities like New York City and Chicago have reported an overall reduction in crime since lockdowns began, but The Marshall Project says these statistics don’t tell the whole story, and they have expressed concern that many cases of violence are going unreported. Some of the possible contributing factors may include:

  • DV being reported as other violent crimes. Even in cities where crime has dropped, violent crimes have stayed relatively flat. Since DV victims are on lockdown with their abusers, it is widely believed some of these victims are suffering more serious injuries or even death.
  • Fear of medical facilities. With the prevalence of COVID-19, many people are hesitant to seek medical treatment even when they truly need it. DV victims may rationalize that their current abuse is still preferable to possible exposure to a life-threatening disease.
  • Concerns about incarceration. With reports of COVID-19 spreading through prisons and jails, some DV victims may feel sorry for their abusers. They may worry that their spouse or partner would not be properly quarantined in jail, and thus may be hesitant to send them into harm’s way by reporting the abuse.

Exacerbating the Problem

A majority of Americans understand the value of stay-at-home orders in combating this pandemic. After all, COVID-19 is a silent, random killer that can be transmitted even among people who show no symptoms. However, advocates have expressed concerns that this widespread strategy to protect the public has left a significant part of the population vulnerable by quarantining potential victims in close quarters with their abusers. In fact, several contributing factors may even be making a bad problem worse. Some examples:

  • Abusers are spending more time at home. For some dysfunctional couples who use distance as a safety mechanism to deter violence, that barrier has effectively been removed by quarantine orders, increasing the possibility of violence occurring.
  • There are fewer escape options for the victims. Under normal circumstances, a DV victim may have several options for reporting the perpetrator and/or planning an escape—for example, waiting until their partner leaves for work, confiding with their work colleagues, etc. With both parties at home (and possibly unemployed), victims of abuse have fewer opportunities to sound the alarm that they are in danger—and depending on the severity of the issue, an ill-timed 911 call could be deadly.
  • More abusers can return home. Jails across the country are releasing prisoners early due to the threat of Coronavirus—including, in some cases, even alleged violent criminals—because these jails are often considered “Petri dishes” for infection. Officials in the Austin, TX area have even indicated they are processing and releasing people recently arrested for alleged domestic violence faster than usual. This situation can endanger the victims, who often use this jail time as an opportunity to plan for their future safety. In some cases, the abusers may return home to “finish the job” before the victims can find shelter elsewhere.

Finding New Avenues for Help

For victims of domestic violence who find their options reduced, advocates are devising new opportunities for them to seek help. In France, for example, DV victims have been advised to notify their local druggist if they are in danger, using a special predefined code word if they cannot speak freely. Social media and the Internet have also provided new avenues for sounding alarms. Some users have advised their friends to communicate via code if they are in trouble, and local charities and agencies are utilizing secure chatbots for victims who fear their partner is tracking their activities online.

In some cases, situations at home may be triggering violence that wouldn’t normally occur. We’ll soon follow up on this discussion by talking about some of those triggers and how you can head domestic violence off at the pass. In the meantime, if you have recently been arrested on suspicion of DV, we can help. Call our offices for a free case evaluation.

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