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COVID-19 contributing to domestic violence: what to do


By Jill Baker-Tingey, University of Nevada, Reno Extension 

As shelter-in-place restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic continue, reports of violence in the home are increasing in some areas. Contributing factors for this increase, such as job loss, tight finances and constant close proximity to partners and children, may not only amplify family violence, but also diminish the family’s ability to engage in constructive communication or coping strategies. It’s more important than ever to understand the challenges victims of domestic violence face, the injury and health effects of domestic violence, and how to help victims. 

What exactly is domestic violence?

Domestic violence can take many forms. The National Domestic Violence Hotline defines domestic violence as “a pattern of abusive behavior in an intimate partner relationship used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.” The hotline/website further explains that domestic violence doesn’t just include physical and sexual violence, but can also include actions such as threats and intimidation, emotional abuse and economic deprivation.   

Challenges to seeking help

Seeking help from an abusive situation is often difficult for victims for a variety of reasons, such as fear, finances or lack of a support system. During the COVID-19 crisis, seeking help or leaving is even more challenging. Victims are often having a more difficult time accessing safe physical spaces and resources, such as nonprofit services, community and family resource centers, and courts.

In addition, going to work and taking children to school often provide opportunities for victims to talk with others about their situation, seek help or get a break from their abusers. With schools and nonessential businesses closed, victims are often lacking these opportunities. 

Injury, illness and death

While the media reports the devastating toll that the pandemic is taking each day, providing numbers of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and death, there are certainly other injuries occurring where the pandemic is at least a major factor, including some associated with domestic violence. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 41 percent of female and 14 percent of male domestic violence survivors experience some form of physical injury related to domestic violence.

Even worse, domestic violence can also result in death. About one in six homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner, and nearly half of female homicide victims are murdered by their current or former male intimate partner. Nevada ranks fourth in the nation for women killed by a current or former intimate partner. 

Domestic violence victims may also suffer from other negative health effects associated with intimate partner violence. Conditions may include chronic illnesses affecting the heart; the digestive, reproductive or nervous systems; and muscles and bones. Survivors may also experience mental health illnesses, such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.  

How to help

Although the personal effects of domestic violence are devastating, there are ways family members, friends, neighbors and co-workers can help a victim. If you suspect that someone you know might be a victim of domestic violence, ways to support him or her include: 

  • Call 911 if the victim is in danger.
  • Reach out to the victim by a phone call, text, video conference or social media. Don’t give up, and don’t be alarmed if the victim hangs up on you. He or she may not be safe having a conversation, as the abuser may be monitoring the victim’s activities. Keep trying to reach out by various means. The simple act of kindness in reaching out may give a victim the hope needed during this time of the COVID-19 crisis, which may be especially alienating and lonely.
  • Listen, and express compassion, respect and patience. 
  • Remind the victim that she or he does not deserve the abuse.
  • Offer to help the victim contact a domestic violence advocate to gather information. 
  • Help the victim develop a safety plan.
  • Help find supportive community resources or online resources. Safe websites for victims have an escape button, allowing users to leave the website without it appearing in the browser history, or may have chat services.
  • Call the local justice or family court to find out how a victim obtains a protective order during COVID-19 office closures.
  • Remember that your role is to support the victim and not make decisions for him or her.
  • Learn about domestic violence.
  • If you hear or see abusive behavior, report it immediately to your local law enforcement.

Additional resources to share

Jill Baker-Tingey is an assistant professor and Extension educator with University of Nevada, Reno Extension unit of the University’s College of Agriculture, Biotechnology & Natural Resources.

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