Domestic Abuse During a Pandemic
Nationwide Hotline Shortlist*:
National Domestic Abuse Hotline: Call 1-800-799-7233, text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474, or visit thehotline.org.
National Human Trafficking Hotline: Call 1-888-373-7888, text HELP or INFO to 233733, or visit humantraffickinghotline.org.
Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN): Call 1-800-656-4673 (HELP), or visit online.rainn.org.
Local/Statewide Hotline Shortlist*:
North Carolina Department of Social Services: Call 980-314-3577 or visit their website at mecknc.gov/dss/Pages/Home.aspx
Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy: Call 704-376-1600 or visit their website at charlottelegaladvocacy.org to learn more
Mecklenburg County Community Support Services: Call 704-336-3210 or visit their website at mecknc.gov/CommunitySupportServices/Pages/Home.aspx
Click here for more local hotlines.
*More information about these hotlines can be found later in this blog post.
“I woke up, I just felt numb. My whole body was just like, am I here? Am I dead?”
Stacy is one of the many victims of domestic abuse during the pandemic (KeraNews refers to Stacy only by her first name to protect her privacy). She recalls almost dying the last time her boyfriend strangled her. Her children watched her as her boyfriend squeezed her neck with his hands, dragging Stacy away as her 7-year-old daughter balled up her fists. Stacy knew that she had to make a decision that many victims have been facing since the start of the pandemic: “Flee from abuse and violence or stay home to avoid COVID-19.”
Stacy isn’t the only survivor—on average, 20 people are physically abused by their intimate partner every minute in the United States. That’s equivalent to more than 10 million people every year, yet the issue of domestic violence (which actually accounts for 15% of all violent crime) is continually swept under the rug.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the issue. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates there to be 15 million additional cases of intimate partner violence (IPV) as a result of the COVID-19 lockdowns.
In the Greater Charlotte Area specifically, physical distancing and social isolation has led to police receiving 500 additional domestic violence calls—an 18% increase— in the month of March alone. In addition, the Charlotte Safe Alliance Shelter reports that their calls for domestic abuse have risen by 40%.
The next two weeks will be dedicated to the ongoing crisis of domestic abuse and human trafficking in the Greater Charlotte Area. The first week will introduce you to the relationship between the pandemic and domestic abuse and present the various local and nationwide hotlines for reference. The second week will emphasize human trafficking and the ways to access professional support, how you can increase your safety, and how you can spread awareness. We hope that our blogs will inform the communities in the Greater Charlotte Area, among many others, about the pressing situation that has been kept below the surface to strengthen our community currently struggling to mitigate domestic abuse and human trafficking.
What is Domestic Abuse?
First and foremost, domestic abuse is not love. As per The Center for Family Justice, “Domestic abuse is a pattern of coercive, controlling behavior that is a pervasive life-threatening crime affecting people in all our communities…”
In a relationship riddled with domestic abuse, there is often one person in the relationship that seeks (often successfully acquires) literal power over the other person. Given that the abuser wants to control the other person’s life, the perpetrator engages in a variety of physical, emotional, and psychological abuse designed to isolate the victim from family and friends, forcing the victim to rely solely on the abuser for all their needs.
Below are common tactics, as per the Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs, that the abuser uses in an abusive relationship.
How COVID-19 Has Worsened the Situation
1. Anxiety and Stress. With COVID-19-related unemployment rates rising higher in the first 3 months than the first 2 years of the Great Recession, Americans are increasingly likely to suffer from mental disorders such as anxiety and stress. The effects are amplified by mandatory lockdowns that force us into isolation, leading to a variety of mental health problems such as panic attacks and suicidal attempts. Unfortunately, stress and aggression often exacerbate each others’ effects, translating into increased acts of domestic abuse during crises. For example, the Texas Council on Family Violence has reported an increase in rates of intimate partner violence (IPV) due to stress after Hurricane Harvey.
2. Social Isolation. Domestic abusers exert control over their partners to stay in power, and abusers used the COVID-19 pandemic to further isolate their partners from the rest of society.
The following is a list of ways (per the National Domestic Violence Hotline) abusers may manipulate the pandemic to continue their abuse.
“Abusive partners may withhold necessary items, such as hand sanitizer or disinfectants.
Abusive partners may share misinformation about the pandemic to control or frighten survivors, or to prevent them from seeking appropriate medical attention if they have symptoms.
Abusive partners may withhold insurance cards, threaten to cancel insurance, or prevent survivors from seeking medical attention if they need it.
Programs that serve survivors may be significantly impacted –- shelters may be full or may even stop intakes altogether. Survivors may also fear entering shelter because of being in close quarters with groups of people.
Survivors who are older or have chronic heart or lung conditions may be at increased risk in public places where they would typically get support, like shelters, counseling centers, or courthouses.
Travel restrictions may impact a survivor’s escape or safety plan – it may not be safe for them to use public transportation or to fly.”
These tactics being used by abusive partners are part of a broader trend of purposely isolating their partner and controlling their activities, such as forcing them to quit their job while weakening their victim’s relationships with their friends and family so that they have total control over their partner.
3. Escalation of Family Conflicts. According to the New York Times, quarantining has flourished another public crisis. As the governments are scrambling to deal with the direct consequences of COVID-19, local and nationwide domestic abuse hotlines are lighting up more rapidly than ever as confinement isolates parents and children, leading to increased family conflicts that may result in physical abuse. Medical Centers like the Cook Children’s Medical Center had 7 cases of child abuse in 5 days during March when their COVID-19 outbreak surged. Children and babies suffer consequences as well as their mothers become victims, and domestic violence shelters face unique challenges in funding and capacity given physical distancing requirements. The lack of resources for supporting survivors of domestic violence is not new, but COVID-19 has amplified the problem.
4. Alcohol Consumption. Alcohol, one of the main causes of aggression, has seen sales rising over 243% during the start of the pandemic, according to Market Watch. The World Health Organization explains that alcohol directly affects cognitive and physical functioning, which decreases self-control. Also, excess drinking has been known to worsen financial issues, childcare problems, and other “family stressors,” leading to more cases of future drinking. In fact, victims estimate that 55% of their partners have displayed physical assault after drinking in the United States.
Stay safe out there and know that you are not alone!