Every minute, nearly 20 people are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States alone. On average, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner during their lifetime. There are typically more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines every single day nationwide, and, perhaps most importantly, under normal, non-pandemic circumstances, only 34 percent of people who are injured by an intimate partner actually receive medical care for their injuries.
For survivors of domestic violence, being forced to stay isolated in close quarters with their abusers poses a new, frightening, and dangerous risk to many. As the world drastically changes every day due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the many negative side effects of widespread shelter-in-place orders is that it requires people to stay confined in one location with a limited number of people. For survivors of domestic violence, this could mean spending extended periods of time in isolation with their abuser.
Domestic violence and domestic abuse are defined as patterns of abusive and coercive behaviors, including physical, sexual, and psychological attacks, as well as economic coercion, in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner. Abuse can take many forms, whether it be through isolation, jealousy, emotional, sexual, or verbal abuse, or even serious physical violence.
Abuse is about power and control, and when survivors are forced to stay in close proximity to their abuser, it becomes much easier for the abuser to exert control over the survivor. This may take shape in the form of intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation from others, coercion and threats, economic abuse, minimizing and denying problems, and assigning blame to the survivor.
If you are unsure as to whether or not the situation you are experiencing could be considered abuse, in addition to the signs listed above, below are several ways that the COVID-19 pandemic can potentially impact domestic violence survivors:
- Abusive partners may restrict access to necessary items, including, but not limited to, hand sanitizer or disinfectants.
- Abusive partners may use false information about the pandemic to control or frighten survivors, or to prevent them from seeking appropriate medical attention if they have symptoms.
- Abusive partners may restrict access to insurance cards, threaten to cancel insurance, or prevent survivors from seeking COVID-19 related and non-COVID-19 related medical attention.
- Survivors may hesitate seeking shelter for fear of being in close quarters with other people.
- Survivors who are at higher risk may fear going to places where they would typically get support, such as shelters, counseling centers, or courthouses.
- Travel restrictions may seriously impact a survivor's escape or safety plan.
- An abusive partner may feel more justified and escalate their isolation tactics.
If you, or someone you know, is experiencing any of the aforementioned signs of abuse, there are several things you can do to try to stay safe:
Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline: Available 24/7 via call or online chat
- Phone: (800)-799-7233
- TTY: (800)-787-3224
- Text "LOVEIS" to 22522
For residents of the Chicagoland area, call the Chicago Hotline for the Department of Family & Support Services for the City of Chicago Division on Domestic Violence: Available 24/7 via call or text
- Phone: (877)-863-6338
- TTY: (877)-863-6339
- Division on Domestic Violence Website
For residents of the Columbus area, call the Franklin County Domestic Violence Shelter Hotline at CHOICES: Available 24/7 via call
- Phone: (614)-224-4663
- CHOICES Website
For residents of Ohio, call the Ohio Domestic Violence Network "Information and Referral Line" which will:
- Direct callers to the telephone number for their local DV shelter
- Direct callers to the telephone numbers for other state coalitions against DV
- Request safety plans, brochures, and other clearinghouse print materials
- Borrow educational materials from their library on DV
- Get information on ODVN sponsored workshops, conferences, or training events
- Phone: (800)-934-9840
- ODVN Website
Other steps you can take to increase your safety while in quarantine include:
- Being aware of where your abuser is in the home
- Trusting your instincts
- Having a packed bag ready to go
- Avoiding rooms with potential weapons
- Creating a code word to communicate with friends and family if in danger
- Taking a walk outside away from the abuser if possible
- If safe to do so, maintaining telehealth counseling and advocacy appointments
- If you have children, rehearsing and practicing a safety plan with the children
- Teaching children how and when to contact 911
Most importantly, remember that you are not alone, and there are people who care about you and your safety. And, if you know someone who you think may be involved in a domestic violence situation, make sure to remind them that you are here for them, that you care about them, and that they are not alone.