Protecting Victims of Intimate Partner Violence During the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Pandemic
Contributing Authors: Joyce R. King, Chief Counsel, Frederick County (MD) State’s Attorney’s Office & Debbie Feinstein, Chief Assistant State’s Attorney, Montgomery County (MD) State’s Attorney’s Office
Victims of intimate partner violence are isolated, manipulated, and controlled by their abuser. Their isolation often cuts them off from potential support systems, which is why it is so difficult for them to come forward and seek help. The public health crisis surrounding COVID-19, also known as coronavirus, has magnified the dangers that these victims already face every day.
The public is being encouraged to self-quarantine to avoid potential exposure to COVID-19, yet the home is often the most dangerous place for intimate partner violence victims to be.
The public is being encouraged to practice social distancing to avoid exposure to others who may be carrying the disease, yet as a result, intimate partner violence victims are being cut off from their support systems.
As part of social distancing, the public is being encouraged to switch to virtual or technology-based communication, yet abusers nearly always have access to their victims’ cell phone, computer, tablet, social media accounts, and other communication mechanisms.
There are natural stressors that come with times of fear and uncertainty, and the COVID-19 public health crisis in particular is triggering financial and occupational concerns in many homes. This, in combination with self-quarantine and social distancing, puts intimate partner violence victims in an incredibly volatile and dangerous situation, with limited access to any support system.
Self-quarantine and social distancing make sense from a public health perspective, but those who work with victims of intimate partner violence need to be aware of the increased risks associated with these situations and find ways to help victims overcome these greater challenges.
Create a safety plan.
A safety plan is a personalized, practical plan that includes ways to remain safe while in a relationship, planning to leave, or after you leave. Utilize local resources for assistance (see below) or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1–800–799–7233. Safety planning can be done with victims, friends, family members, or anyone who is concerned about their own safety or the safety of someone else.
Because there may be limited shelter availability due to COVID-19, consider alternatives such as staying with family or friends, or staying in motels. Be extra mindful of good hygiene practices if you’re leaving as well — wash your hands regularly, avoid touching your face, minimize contact with surfaces that other people have had contact with, etc.
COVID-19 is causing uncertainty for many people but getting through this time while experiencing abuse can feel overwhelming. Taking time for your health and wellness can make a big difference in how you feel.
If you are a friend or family member of someone experiencing abuse, you may not be able to visit them in person if you live in an area where there are COVID-19 cases. Seeing someone you care about being hurt is stressful. Remind yourself that you cannot make decisions for someone else, but you can encourage your loved one to think about their wellbeing, safety plan and to practice self-care while they are in their home.
Reach out for help.
While people are encouraged to stay at home, you may feel isolated from your friends and family. Even if you are isolated, try to maintain social connections online or over the phone, if it is safe to do so, and try to stick to your daily routines as much as possible.
You are not alone.