Since the pandemic began in March 2020, the U.S. has seen an increase in domestic violence. The New England Journal of Medicine labeled the situation “A Pandemic within a Pandemic.” The actions taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are the same ones that are creating conditions for domestic violence to thrive in. These actions include stay-at-home orders, closing businesses, schools, and other activities outside of the home.
COVID-19 stay-at-home orders can leave victims trapped in unsafe homes. Working at home or distance learning means that victims are not afforded those few hours of solace outside of the home. This impacts children and adults, as all ages are at risk for domestic violence. This is especially dangerous for children, who are also seeing their education affected by stay-at-home orders besides being left in unsafe situations at home. How can we expect them to study and stay focused in a high-stress environment?
Stay-at-home orders also fuel isolation, which is a common element of domestic violence. Victims are left without the ability to interact in person with others outside of the home, and they may be experiencing abusers who control who they talk to online. Victims are left isolated from everyone except their abuser. This makes accessing relief services difficult for some victims as their abusers may limit their ability to get help. While victims may have been able to make an excuse to get out and get help pre-COVID, the pandemic adds an extra layer of stress and surveillance to their lives.
The pandemic has also increased economic instability, and this may play a role in victims feeling as though they are unable to leave. Furthermore, shelters are having to limit the number of people they can help due to health protocols. Traveling is also more difficult in the era of COVID-19. These factors compounded make leaving especially difficult for domestic abuse victims during COVID-19.
The question is whether the end of the pandemic will see an end to the increase in domestic violence? How big of a hole have we dug? When does staying at home become dangerous? It will be a while before we are back to ‘normal.’ So what can we do to decrease domestic violence until then? While staying connected via Zoom, texting, or social media is not the same as face to face, it’s vital to check in on each other and make sure our loved ones are safe.