One year ago, none of us had any idea how long the COVID-19 pandemic would last, nor did we expect our city to shut down and social distancing to become the new normal. And yet, here we are. One year later. COVID-19 wasn’t the only health crisis at play in our community though. Another public health issue was also on the rise – domestic violence.
During our community’s shutdown, The Center for Women and Families saw a 30% decrease in calls to our hotline. This statistic was concerning since we knew many victims of domestic violence were trapped in their homes with their abusers and couldn’t call for help, whereas before the pandemic, many domestic violence cases were reported when peers or family members noticed a friend’s bruise or checked in on a coworker who seemed to be acting differently. However, with social distancing practices and working from home becoming the norm, these conversations became less frequent and most people didn’t have access to their network of support outside the home.
When our city slowly began to open up, so too did the domestic violence victims who had been trapped with their abusers. We heard stories not only about how abusers monitored their victim’s connection with the outside world, but many survivors shared that their abuser would threaten them with violence if they left the home, using the possibility of getting COVID-19 against them as a form of mental abuse. Additionally, we know some abusers also perpetuated lies about the police, saying that even if the victim called for help, police wouldn’t come because they had scaled back their presence as a result of the health concern.
The pandemic isn’t over, but we have already learned so much from this current situation and the impact it has had and continues to have on domestic violence victims. In the chance that we ever face another shutdown, it is important that we all have plans in place to help those who may find themselves trapped with their abuser. For some, this may mean establishing a code word with friends so you can signal when you need help. For others, ensuring you have access to a video-chatting platform so you can check in on a friend can be lifesaving. Make a plan now for how you will seek help, so that you can be ready should we find ourselves in a similar situation in the future.
We expect when the time comes where a life without masks is normal again and all communities have opened back up, that we have a lot of work to do to help those impacted during the pandemic and we are committed to providing that help to those that need it. With our 24/7 crisis hotline and messaging services available via our social media platforms, if you can reach us, we’ll make sure you can get to us. The Center for Women and Families is always ready to listen and help anyone trapped in a domestic violence situation.