The Covid-19 pandemic is unprecedented and has resulted in many challenges for all of us. Feelings of isolation, fear, and anxiety are common—and understandable. But certain at-risk individuals face an even greater danger: violence and abuse from those who are closest to them. The unexpected stressors and financial burdens from the pandemic have created new, highly stressful situations. While domestic abuse often involves adults in an intimate relationship, children are often among the most at risk in situations where an adult is prone to violent or abusive behavior.
As schools shut down and shelter-in-place orders were implemented in the first quarter of 2020, domestic violence hotlines expected a surge in calls. With abusers and their victims trapped together, it seemed inevitable that such violence would escalate. Things unfolded a little differently than expected, however. While calls rose in some areas, call volumes actually dropped, steeply, in many other areas.
Sadly, experts suspect that this does not reflect a sudden drop in abuse. Quite the opposite. They believe that abuse cases increased, but victims were unable to contact service providers safely, for fear of further abuse.
Job loss, and job insecurity, have created even greater economic dependence among some victims, who lack the resources to escape their situations or remove their children from harm’s way. Simultaneously, stressors on adults have been mounting. School and daycare closures mean more children are staying home and the burden of their education is transferred to the adults in their lives. Added pressures, including the need to homeschool, while trying to make ends meet, have contributed to rising stress — and escalating risks of abuse in the community.
The Hidden Pandemic of Violence in the Home
A leading medical publication, The New England Journal of Medicine, has called this “a pandemic within a pandemic.”
While doctors and clinicians are typically able to look for signs of domestic or child abuse when seeing patients privately, fewer visits to doctors and emergency rooms have conspired to make even this safety valve less available to victims or their advocates.
In fact, pandemics and other times of civil unrest or uncertainty have historically resulted in higher incidences of violence against women and children.
Among the known factors that may contribute to rising violence are obvious ones, such as economic insecurity and poverty-related stress, and social isolation (which is magnified by shelter-in-place orders, quarantines, and widespread avoidance of social gatherings and interactions.) Fear and uncertainty regarding the COVID-19 pathogen itself, and the disease it causes, is another stressor, even in the absence of illness.
Mental health is a legitimate concern under such circumstances. Experts fear that the cycle of abuse, including domestic abuse (most often affecting women, but occasionally involving men who suffer such abuse), and child abuse, is being perpetuated and amplified.
Another Public Health Crisis
Essentially, the rise in cases of child abuse and domestic violence represents another public health crisis hiding in plain sight within the more obvious and well-documented public health crisis that is the Covid pandemic.
All over the world, evidence of rising domestic violence is emerging, but few governments have made provisions for abuse victims who may have been trapped with their abusers, thanks to shelter-in-place mandates and restrictions on movement. Many shelters, for example, were forced to close for lack of adequate social-distancing space. Some governments have responded by securing hotel rooms for abuse victims, so they can shelter safely away from their abusers — and the threat of infection from similarly affected strangers.
For immediate help in a crisis:
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
- The National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-422-4453
- The National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
- Olive Crest: 800.550.CHILD x 1234
We have qualified caseworkers on standby and the resources to help.