As people are making sacrifices to shelter in place to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, there are hidden costs that we may not have realized. Domestic and sexual violence as well as child abuse, all thrive in sectors of silence. More often than not, the abuse happens at the hands of someone the victim knows, usually a caregiver or a member of their household. At a time when people are required to stay at home, they may be at an additional risk of violence while trying to keep safe from a virus. Police departments across the country are reporting an uptick in domestic violence calls, and that is only the incidents that are being reported. We have no way of knowing the full extent of this problem.
Stressors such as substance use disorders and financial strain are two of the primary underpinnings of violence, and both are rising by the minute in our country as we reach unemployment benchmarks we haven't seen since the Great Depression. Admissions to substance treatment facilities are skyrocketing, and while most of our economy is seeing a serious downturn, sales of alcohol are soaring. On top of that, as the fear around the virus began to spread in early 2020, toilet paper wasn't the only thing flying off the shelves — so were guns. States reported gun sales skyrocketed amid fears of civil unrest and governmental orders.
At a time when people are required to stay at home, they may be at unintended risk of violence while trying to keep safe from a virus.
Economic stressors, a stay-at-home order, more alcohol in the home, and additional access to guns are the exact kindling required for a flurry of interpersonal violence. What can we do to help? First and foremost, we must get the word out to all potential victims that help is still available. Hotlines are still being answered 24/7, and in many instances, agencies have also established texting hotlines and resources. While a shelter may not be desired by those attempting to leave a dangerous home right now, many domestic violence agencies are using hotels across the country to offer safe respite for anyone in danger. ChildLine [CJ1] calls are still being answered, and when necessary, workers are still going into homes for safety and security checks if child abuse is suspected and/or reported.
Second, check in on those whom you may be concerned about, and discreetly let them know you are there if they need anything. Due to being under the same roof, your loved one may not be able to speak freely for fear that the abuser can hear. Establish a code word that is known only between you and the victim. That way, if you get that word via text from that person or it's used when you call, you know that help is needed. Pre-establish what that help looks like. Does the person want you to call and create an interruption, or do you need to call 911?
Encourage the person to change the passwords on accounts and technology, though this could be risky if the offender is monitoring the person's phone and apps. If a victim goes to the National Domestic Violence Hotline webpage, there is a chat line feature that will immediately delete the messages off the phone as soon as the victim ends the conversation. This could give an opportunity for the victim to access resources, make a quick safety plan, or just get some needed guidance to help them get through the hour, day, or week.
Economic stressors, a stay-at-home order, more alcohol in the home, and additional access to guns are the exact kindling required for a flurry of interpersonal violence.
One of the most important things a victim can have is resources, be that a friend, neighbor, or family member. Encourage the person to make a safety plan, connect them to resources that can individualize a safety plan to the circumstances, listen to the victim, and respect their wishes. Your loved ones know the offender better than anyone else, and by doing something against their wishes, you may put them in additional harm. Reassure them that services such as counseling, food pantries, shelter options, transportation assistance, and restraining or protective orders are all still accessible in every town in America. Gently guide them while planting the seeds of life-saving resources.
WRITTEN BYJennifer Storm