Domestic Abuse in a Time of COVID-19: Resources and Tips to Help You Stay Safe in Isolation
As COVID-19 cases continue to surge and more and more people are doing their part to protect their friends, families and neighbors, working and staying home has become commonplace in 2020. Unfortunately, with that comes a new crisis: a rising tide of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), commonly known as domestic abuse.
With finances becoming increasingly stressful, fears of getting sick growing and the holiday season arriving (which typically bring unique worries of their own each year), tensions can rise higher than ever in households across the world. On an annual average, It’s estimated that one in three women and one in ten men will experience a case of IPV. This year, because of the pandemic, many hospitals (including our own) are reporting a widespread increase in domestic abuse. And, while many are mild, some cases can lead to prolonged and irreparable physical, mental and emotional abuse — and others death.
If you feel you or a child are experiencing IPV, here are three tips for maintaining your safety as fast as possible. There are also resources available below to provide assistance to those in need.
Create a Virtual Support Network
A network of trusted friends, family and/or neighbors can help ensure your safety in a number of ways - from regular visits to de-escalation during tense visits. But, during a pandemic, many are unable to leave their home for a number of reasons. Creating check-ins with your network on a set schedule virtually or over the phone can be an easy way to ensure your safety. With social media being such a regular part of everyone’s lives, having a video meeting with friends and family to keep in touch and keep them updated is commonplace and allows them to ensure you’re OK.
You may not feel comfortable or safe sharing information about your relationship while home with your partner (for example, in case your partner overhears you, or has access to your phone, email or web activity)—but if you can, checking in with your network helps them to be aware of potential concerns for your safety. If abuse has escalated and you’re not reaching out to them at the time you normally would, this can tip off your network to call for help. At first chance, it also helps to develop a code word or phrase with your network to covertly indicate If your spouse is around and abuse has escalated to a point you need help,
Have a discussion with your friends and family about what help is most important to you if you ever need them to intervene (since help in an emergency can look different to different people). Let your network know helping you may mean asking them to be prepared to call 911, or calling your partner’s cell phone to interrupt his or her behavior by distraction.
Maximize Your Privacy When Possible
If your network isn’t available or you feel your spouse may be monitoring your activity, finding small ways to increase your privacy can help in a number of ways. As discussed above, developing code words and phrases with your network can help you find help in times of need without alerting your abuser, and utilizing running water and ambient noises in the kitchen or bathroom - such as starting the shower, turning on a vacuum or playing music - can offer you precious seconds to send a quick text or make a phone call to your network or one of the resources below. Support staff are trained in crisis management calls and hearing through noise to ensure they can still provide support even when you can’t speak at a normal volume or in a quiet place.
If you’re unable to make a call or the situation hasn’t escalated to emergency levels, going for a walk outside - even just in your yard - can help to provide a moment of focus and separation for both you and your spouse which, in some cases, can help to de-escalate a growing situation. During this time, take deep breaths, center yourself and practice mindfulness for your situation. It’s easy to think that you’re alone in situations like this, but it’s important to know that there is no shame in seeking help or treatment as soon as possible.
Schedule a Doctor’s Appointment
While COVID-19 may make individuals wary of visiting a doctor’s office, it’s incredibly crucial that you seek help if you are in critical condition as soon as possible. Hospitals and doctor’s offices are doing everything they can to ensure proper sanitation and cleaning protocols are in place to keep you safe.
Even for those in tense situations who are not in critical condition, doctors (both in-person and through telemedicine applications like our HealthAnywhere app) are trained to recognize and properly react to common signs of IPV even if that isn’t what your initial visit is concerning. From there, they can report any concerns, invite you in for a private consultation or discreetly provide resources to help you find the support you need.
If You Know Someone Experiencing IPV
If you know someone who may be experiencing abuse, check in with them frequently, ask how they’re doing and provide an opportunity to let you know things may not be going well. If you are in a position to take them in, be sure they are aware that is a possibility, if needed.
Remember that a large part of IPV is mental and emotional abuse that can cause traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). These injuries are not physical and have been associated with a wide range of negative cognitive, neurological and psychological symptoms - many of which lead to an increased difficulty for the victim to recognize they’re in a dangerous situation and seek help. Forcing someone to leave a situation could potentially cause more long-term harm and an eventual return to that same environment. Instead, it’s recommended that you provide support in different ways and report situations to the proper authorities (social services, local law enforcement) who are trained to provide more advanced help.
Resources for Individuals Experiencing IPV
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