SAN DIEGO -- Advocates and experts on domestic violence likely saw this coming: the response to keep people safe from COVID-19 would result in greater harm for victims of domestic violence. All of that time isolated and at home alone with an abusive partner has meant that the severity of the abuse can increase.
According to Futures Without Violence, a health and social justice nonprofit working to end various forms of abuse, increases in reports of domestic violence have occurred in a number of cities. The online chat options on websites supporting victims has also seen an uptick, indicating that victims likely feel unsafe attempting to call for help while in the home with their abuser.
And the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence, a statewide domestic violence coalition representing 200 organizations, reports an increase in calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline with more than 8,000 calls and texts from California between Feb. 24 and May 19. On March 16, the hotline began tracking reports that specifically cited COVID-19, and more than 1,000 of the calls and texts received from California were related to the pandemic between March 16 and May 19. The hotline also noted that California is in the top percentile of COVID-19-related calls in the nation, according to Jacquie Marroquin, director of programs for the California Partnership.
"What weighs most heavily on advocates on the ground is the fact that there are many more survivors who are unable to reach out at all because they are with the person who is causing them harm 24/7," Marroquin said.
Esta Soler, president and founder of Futures Without Violence, and Marroquin took some time to discuss what victims of domestic violence face, particularly during this pandemic, as well as the kinds of support that are necessary and most helpful. (This email interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Q: What are some of the ways in which COVID-19 has contributed to the increase in reports of abuse?
Soler: We see the impacts in two major ways: First, for those who are sheltering at home, the constant presence of an abusive partner and the inability to get out of the house or apartment creates and enhances danger. Isolating a victim from friends and family is a primary tool of the abuser and now the pandemic is causing that to happen. Second, survivors may be even more desperate than in the past to keep their jobs because they know that job is the only thing providing economic security. Being forced to work in unsafe conditions is also a consequence of this pandemic, and this in turn can also mean survivors who are parents are forced to leave their children in less-than-ideal conditions.
Q: What is the response to this virus exposing about domestic violence?
Marroquin: The domestic violence field has been grappling with the fact that there are many survivors who do not reach out for assistance because they don't want to separate from their abusive partners; many simply want the abuse to stop and be a healthy, safe family. And here we are, with a global pandemic whose appropriate response is to stay home with our families. In much of our work at the Partnership, we have been pivoting to services for the entire family, including those who cause harm. And truthfully, if we want to end domestic violence once and for all, there must be robust interventions for those who do cause harm, regardless if they are together or separated.
Q: Can you talk a bit about support networks and escape plans, and what these personal support systems should look like during the pandemic?