We know that any external factors that add stress, isolation, and financial strain can create circumstances where a survivor’s safety is further compromised. The COVID-19 pandemic has elements of all three of these external factors. Even more concerning, shelter-in-place orders meant that many would be in closer and more frequent proximity to their abusers. We outlined more of the unique impact that COVID-19 has on domestic violence victims and survivors in our blog here.
On March 16, 2020, we began collecting data to track exactly what impact COVID-19 had on those affected by relationship abuse. During the first two months of the pandemic, here’s what we found (you can also download the full report here):
While it was slow at first, our contact volume did increase by 9% compared to the same period in 2019.
We knew that survivors would likely feel less safe reaching out for support because of being in such close proximity to their abusive partner. During the month of March 2020, our contact volume decreased by 6% compared to March 2019. A decrease in our contact volume is rare, but this didn’t surprise us – this pandemic put up unique barriers for survivors to access support safely.
As shelter-in-place orders began to lift throughout the country, our contact volume in April 2020 increased by 15% as compared to April 2019. Along with many other providers in the intimate partner violence space, we expect to see an unprecedented number of survivors reporting abuse and seeking support in the coming months. Even when the major threat of this pandemic is over, there will be long-term effects on the health and safety of survivors – and we must prioritize their safety and their needs.
Roughly 10% of all contacts cited COVID-19 as a condition of their experience.
By citing COVID-19 as a condition of their experience, this means a contact noted COVID-19 impacted their situation – whether that means an abuser was using COVID-19 to further control and abuse, or if a resource, like a shelter, was unavailable due to COVID-19. In some cases, sadly it was both.
Contacts usually cite two or more types of abuse in their individual situations, and COVID-19 was no exception to that. 90% of all contacts answered reported experiencing emotional or verbal abuse, where their abuser used threats, intimidation, or humiliation to gain power and control. 24% of all contacts reported economic or financial abuse in their situation – this is also something that may increase in the face of growing unemployment and the long-term economic challenges as a result.
Contacts told our Advocates powerful stories from their experiences. One caller had tested positive for COVID-19, and the abuser was keeping them from contacting family and threatening them with deportation. To see someone’s health and immigration status weaponized shows that an abusive partner will use anything they can to isolate and control. We know that isolation is one of the strongest tactics an abuser can use.
During this time of great uncertainty, one of the most important services our Advocates offer is personalized safety planning. This could not be more critical during this two-month period as survivors navigated shelter-in-place and reduced local domestic violence support services because of social distancing.
The effects of this pandemic is far from over for survivors – and here’s how you can help.
Many of us feel isolated and fearful right now, and that’s understandable – these feelings are amplified for domestic violence survivors. One way to help survivors is by cultivating hope and focusing on things they can control. This means encouraging the survivor in your life to practice some form of self-care, which could look like regular exercise, video calls with loved ones, or even spending increased time in the shower to have more time away from their abuser.
Building community around a survivor is so critical right now. If you know a survivor, or if you suspect someone in your neighborhood is experiencing concerning behaviors in their relationship, now is a great time to connect with them. Check to see if you can be a part of their safety plan by scheduling a regular phone call, video conversation, or an emergency text system.
Don’t know a survivor, but still want to help? Help us spread the message that hope is available by sharing our COVID-19 report on social media (make sure to tag our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram when sharing!).
You can also get involved in our policy advocacy work – sign up for our action center here.
And for any victims and survivors who need support reading this, we are here for you, 24/7. Call 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 for TTY, or if you’re unable to speak safely, you can chat at thehotline.org or text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474.
You are not alone.