Domestic Abuse During Quarantine: When the Threat Is Inside
What victims trapped at home with an abuser need to know.
Posted Mar 19, 2020
Requesting the public to shelter in place assumes a safe place to hunker down and weather the storm. But not everyone is safe at home. For domestic violence victims, home is the most dangerous place to be. And if a couple is subjected to a mandatory lockdown, the potential for both physical and emotional abuse can be dangerously elevated.
Home Court Disadvantage
Some victims in abusive relationships aim to spend as much time away from their homes as they can. From arriving early at work to lingering over coffee with a friend afterward to slowly wheeling a cart through the grocery store killing time on their way home, the goal is to minimize the time spent under the same roof as an abusive partner.
This is true even in relationships without physical abuse. In a previous post entitled Remote Controlled: Domestic Abuse Through Technology, I discussed the prevalence of digital abuse by emotionally abusive partners who use technology to manipulate a victim’s home environment. From controlling the thermostat, the television, or the lights, an abuser’s desire to exert power and control over a victim is made easier by smart home technology.
Unfortunately, current options available to victims seeking to limit exposure to their abusers have dwindled. Avoiding the residence is not possible for victims who are ordered to work from home or are otherwise ordered to shelter in place. For these victims, the only thing worse than being trapped at home is being trapped at home with their abuser. And unfortunately, the current coronavirus pandemic has given abusers an additional weapon to add to their arsenal.
Conditions of House Arrest
In an article in Time, Melissa Godin reports that according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, callers are reporting that their abusers are using COVID-19 as a weapon. [i] Some abusers use contagion concerns to further isolate victims from their support system, others threaten to evict them in order to make them sick. Godin notes that one victim shared that her abuser threatened to evict her from the home if she started coughing, adding that she “could die alone in a hospital room.” The victim shared her fear that her husband would lock her out of her home if she dared to leave.
Godin notes that even victims who would otherwise seek medical attention are dissuaded from seeking help due to valid concerns over subjecting themselves to infection, particularly if they suffer from pre-existing conditions. She shares one example memorialized in a logbook by a National Domestic Violence Hotline advocate of an asthmatic victim who opted not to visit the emergency room, even after being strangled by her partner, for fear of exposure to the virus.
But even under currently restrictive conditions, some victims choose to leave.
The Quest for a Safe Space to Shelter in Place
For some victims, facing an indefinite quarantine under the same roof as their abuser might be the catalyst for a move-out. Although the immediate aftermath of separation can be the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic abuse, victims in relationships where violence is escalating might view fleeing the home as the safest option under the circumstances. But where do they go?
The National Domestic Violence Hotline website[ii] notes that during the current outbreak, domestic violence shelters might not have the usual space available, and some might not be admitting new people. They also acknowledge the fact that victims might not feel safe in a shelter type of environment anyway due to health concerns about living in close quarters.
And even for victims who do have family or friends with whom they could stay, their escape may be hindered by travel restrictions, or by their own fears of transmitting the virus to others who might be more vulnerable physically, or suffering from pre-existing conditions.
Thankfully, an increasing number of agencies are stepping up efforts to assist domestic violence victims who find themselves trapped with their abuser.
Calling for Help: Community Partners
The National Domestic Violence Hotline website is filled with resources, tips, and links to further information to help victims stay safe. They have a hotline for victims and survivors that is staffed around the clock. They invite those who are in need of assistance or support to contact them at 1-800-799-7233. They even provide an option for victims who feel they are unable to find a safe place for a phone call to log onto The Hotline or text LOVEIS to 22522.
The bottom line is that even in a time of crisis, help is available. For some victims, becoming familiar with available resources is the first step. Knowing where to go and who to call provides many victims with a sense of relief even in the absence of current abuse, because knowledge is power.