Domestic Abuse: A Shadow Pandemic Within the Pandemic

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Devastatingly, around one in three women worldwide experience physical or sexual violence, mostly by an intimate partner. As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, this number has only grown. The United Nations entity, UN Women, reports increasing cases of domestic violence and demands for emergency shelter in Canada, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Calls to hotlines have increased by up to five times since Covid restrictions in some countries. In France, reports of rape and domestic violence cases has risen by 30% even while other crimes such as assault or theft have dropped. Singapore reported an increase in domestic violence during their circuit breaker lockdown periods and a 33% increase in helpline calls. 

 

In the United States, the situation is no less troubling. Although the effects of Covid-19 on domestic violence are only beginning to be recorded, data from police departments provide insight into this situation in some regions. The American Journal of Emergency Medicine names three examples: Portland, Oregon saw a 22% increase in arrests related to domestic violence in weeks following stay-at-home orders; San Antonio, Texas saw an 18% increase in calls relating to family violence in March 2020 compared to March 2019; New York City saw a 10% increase in domestic violence reports in March 2020, right after lockdown started. 

 

Looking at the environment that lockdowns place victims into, this is of little surprise. Covid restrictions force victims or those in already high-risk situations to stay at home in close quarters with family or an intimate partner, who are the most likely perpetrators in cases of domestic violence. In addition, lost income, job loss, and health concerns only raise stress, a significant trigger that exacerbates ongoing abuse. As a matter of fact, a study from University of California, Davis has shown that respondents who reported renting, lost income due to COVID-19, and increased nutritional stress were all more likely to be a victim of intimate partner violence. 

 

Whereas the situation inside abusive households is worsening, adding insult to injury, the options for victims to leave and escape are also narrowing. Financial instability, limited social resources, and limited mobility during the pandemic all make it that much more difficult for victims to remove themselves from their abuse. Those who are especially fearful and/or vulnerable to the virus itself would also be unable to leave. Even for those who manage to escape, a strained healthcare system from Covid-19 has already led to essential services such as emergency shelters, hospitals, and domestic violence hotlines reaching near capacity.

 

Support services are also slowly adapting to new circumstances. Supermarkets and pharmacies, two locations abuse victims often still have access to, have begun to train employees to recognize code words for victims trying to escape.

 

While large international organizations such as UN Women help spread awareness and use their resources working with governments, UN agencies, civil societies, and other organizations to end domestic violence, the everyday person can do a lot to be a supportive resource. Having the general population be educated on the signs of abuse, how domestic abuse happens, and the types of support victims need is crucial in ending this systemic issue. Especially crucial during the pandemic, victims often aren’t allowed access to information on which systems are still functioning and which are overloaded or unavailable. 

 

We can all take actionable steps to stop the spread of violence in our own communities. Domesticshelters.org provides ten actionable steps here that individuals can take, which range from lending an ear to victims, helping to be a resource in escape plans, donating to organizations that support survivors and victims, to helping spread awareness about the issue. 

 

If you suspect or know that someone in your life is suffering from domestic violence, there are many resources available both locally and nationally across the United States. The National Domestic Violence Hotline’s number is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), while SafeLink, Massachusetts’ statewide domestic violence hotline is 1-877-785-2020. Both hotlines have translation services in over 130 languages and can assist with information and planning possible courses of action. Additionally, Mass.gov provides a resource guide here, sorted by county, which lists some of the services available in the area. Finally, a list of shelters in Massachusetts and their contact information is available here, again sorted by county. Located closest to where The Parkman Post is based in Southborough, MA is Shadows Shelter for Women in Ashland, MA, whose number is 1-508-620-2690.

About the author

Emma is a IV form boarding student from California. She likes drawing, keeping her growing collection of succulents alive, and playing piano in her free time. She’s especially interested in the sciences and math and how that intertwines with design and art. Having lived in both Toronto and Beijing for an even amount of time, she has plenty of thoughts to share on both her interests and the intersections within her own identities here on the Parkman Post.

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