Housing program supervisor Magda Sellon works in her office at the YWCA in Glendale in March. Workers are providing services by videoconference or phone. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
University High School

Column: Coronavirus has led to a pandemic of domestic violence

Domestic abuse has always been a horrific evil that has existed in our society. However, with the world’s response to the pandemic, this evil has become a pandemic of its own.

“Thursday night, we had one child admitted with, unfortunately, life-threatening injuries, which they succumbed to, as well as four other children in the emergency department at the same time who were treated and released. All of the children were six-years-old or younger,” Dr. Jamye Coffman, the medical director of the CARE team at Cook’s Children Hospital said to Newsweek in April.

“My husband won’t let me leave the house, he’s had flu-like symptoms and blames keeping me here on not wanting to infect others or bringing something like COVID-19 home. But I feel like it’s just an attempt to isolate me” said a victim of domestic abuse as reported by TIME. 

As the coronavirus pandemic plagues virtually every country in the world, most have adopted a policy of self-isolation and quarantine. Individuals are ordered to stay home and to isolate themselves from society. Although this has lead to the hindering of the spread of the virus and has had immense benefits, it also has had unintended consequences. One such consequence is the increase in domestic abuse. 

 

Tensions rising

As families stay at home, the stress placed upon them by the lockdown has led to a rise in tension in households. According to USA Today, the pandemic has caused tensions to rise in households which have led to an increase in suspected domestic violence cases. 

These tensions could have been accumulated from a variety of factors, which have been further intensified by the pandemic. As the economy reacts to the stay at home order, the fear of unemployment has become apparent. 

The Washington Post reported that nearly 17 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the last 4 weeks. The current unemployment rate in the United States is at a shocking 13%, the worst it has been since the Great Depression, according to the Washington Post.

The economy has also seen a decline as National Review predicts inflation to take place as a result of the lockdown. This stress surrounding employment and the economy has been magnified due to the pandemic and it could be a major factor contributing to the spike in domestic violence.

Close contact of abusers and victims with the additional factor of increased stress and tension has made an increase in domestic violence a surety.

“Women in abusive relationships are more likely to be exposed to violence, as are their children, as family members spend more time in close contact, and families cope with additional stress and potential economic or job losses,” World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, according to a WHO tweet.

Several other agencies that specialize in domestic abuse have released similar statements predicting the rise of domestic abuse rates as tensions rise in households.

 

Domestic abuse rates

The United States has seen a spike in reported cases all over the country. As reported by NBC, of the 22 law enforcement agencies they have contacted, 18 have seen a spike in reported cases. Houston reported a 20% increase, North Carolina, an 18% jump and Pheonix saw a jump of 6%.

In addition to these, NBC reported that law enforcement in Boston, Seattle, San Antonio, Salt Lake City, Utah, California, Louisiana, New York, Nevada, Oregon, and  South Carolina have said that domestic violence cases have drastically increased in their jurisdictions in March.

Unfortunately, this situation is not unique to just the US. Domestic abuse rates have been radically increasing all over the world. 

United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres reported that the number of women and children calling support services has doubled since the pandemic, and he urges that governments around the world make addressing this issue a part of their response to the virus. With nearly every country on lockdown, rates have seen a terrifying surge. However, this surge regards only the reported cases, the unreported cases reveal a more terrifying truth

 

Concerns about the statistics

Although there has been a visible spike in reported cases all around the world, officials suspect that the statistics don’t reflect the true magnitude of the situation.

According to a study conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Stay-at-home orders, historic unemployment and other social factors related to the pandemic can make victims even less likely to call, which means public statistics may not represent what is actually happening in homes across the country”. 

Additionally, Katie Ray-Jones, CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline expresses her concern over the statistics. “We are especially concerned that survivors will be unable to reach out for help due to their abusive partner monitoring their behaviors while they are in isolation”. The close proximity of abusers and victims shows how victims aren’t able to get help.

Furthermore, the L.A. Times reported that a huge percentage of domestic abuse reported come not from the victims but from those that come in contact with them. Doctors, teachers, colleagues, counselors, janitors, reporters, and many others. However, with the lockdown in place, victims have almost no contact with individuals who might report these abuses.

With no contact with those that can help them and with their abusers constantly monitoring them, victims have scarce options to get help. It is alarming to even imagine how with such a surge in reported domestic abuse rates, these circumstances could mean an even larger number of unreported cases.

 

What can we do?

With this surprising increase in abuse rates, we as a community must support each other. We must keep our eyes open and remain aware and alert of possible abuse even in isolation. In this difficult time, victims are put in difficult situations, and we as a part of society, must remain extra vigilant.

If you live in the United States, and you or someone you know needs help, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline for support at 1-800-799-7233.

For a list of hotlines and organizations around the world that deal with abuse, check out the Global Organizations that combat abuse.