In the past week, governments, organizations such as Legal Aid, and individual members of the community have taken significant measures to curb exposure to, and the spread of, the COVID-19 virus. As steps are taken to stem the spread of disease, however, domestic violence survivors may face increased risk of violence at this time.
Abusive relationships are about power and control. Unfortunately, when abusive partners experience increased uncertainty or strain in their lives —whether it be financial or otherwise—they often take it out on their partners. Domestic violence hotlines are already hearing about the ways in which abusive partners are using COVID-19 to manipulate and control their partners. As reported by the National Domestic Violence Hotline, abusers may use seemingly small tactics, such as withholding hand sanitizers or disinfectants, or larger tactics, such as sharing misinformation about the pandemic or government restrictions to frighten their partners and prevent them from seeking medical care. Additionally, more people are buying guns in response to fears around COVD-19, and a gun in the home of an abuser increases the risk of homicide by fivefold.
Isolation is often a key tool and component of coercive control used by abusers. Survivors in abusive relationships are at increased risk during social isolation and shelter in place orders, which are increasing throughout the country, because they are often trapped at home with their abusive partners. As a result of social distancing and decreased in-person services, survivors have less access to individuals and resources that provide critical supports. The increased isolation and lack of access to resources contribute to the increase in incidents of gender-based and domestic violence during times of crisis and natural disasters. For example, in China, the number of domestic violence reports that local police received was three times higher in February of 2020 than in February of 2019. Activists point to the lockdown as the cause of increased domestic violence. Similarly, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico precipitated increased calls to domestic violence hotlines in the area. Calls to the domestic violence hotlines in New Orleans and Lafayette increased by 81% and 116% and the National Domestic Violence hotline received 13% more calls from the Gulf Area from April to June of 2010.
Safety planning for survivors is already complicated and requires significant time and preparation, as well as opportunities to physically leave. The public health crisis makes safety planning more difficult and creates potential barriers for survivors to access medical care or other resources. Survivors may avoid courthouses, hospitals, and other public places where they would typically seek assistance and supportive services. Additionally, while many shelters remain open, survivors may fear entering shelter due to limited space and potential requirements that they share space with groups of people. This is particularly true for survivors who are elderly or have medical conditions that place them at increased risk if exposed to COVID-19. The inability to leave will likely be exacerbated as many abusers use financial abuse to prevent their partners from maintaining independence and many families’ and individuals’ financial resources will be significantly depleted as a result of the crisis.
If you are currently experiencing domestic violence and are a District resident, there are still resources available to you.
- Between now and May 15th, individuals in the District who need an emergency Temporary Protection Order (TPO) can obtain one through the Emergency Temporary Protection Order (ETPO) If the individual is in immediate danger and calls the police, he/she will be routed to the ETPO process, which is available at any time of day.
- DC SAFE provides 24 hour assistance through a hotline – (800) 407-5048 – related to safety planning, procedures for filing for a Civil Protection Order, shelter, and other resources. During this time, if an individual needs a TPO, and he/she calls SAFE, and advocate can assist that person with the ETPO process as well.
- The DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence is available at (844) 443-5732 or DCvictim.org/chat
- To contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline, call (800) 799-7233 or text “LOVEIS” to 22522 .
Legal Aid continues to provide advice and assistance related to domestic violence and family law matters during this time. To complete an intake by phone, please call (202) 628-1161 or complete an online intake through our website. Our regular walk-in hours will resume after the COVID-19 outbreak.