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Domestic Abuse Could Spike as the Coronavirus Traps People Indoors

When bad weather traps people indoors, calls to the Seattle-area anti-domestic violence organization LifeWire spike. Now, the city and its surrounding towns are convulsing with a different kind of natural disaster: the spread of the novel coronavirus, which similarly strands people inside as they’re forced to work from home or lose their jobs altogether. LifeWire’s…

Domestic Abuse Could Spike as the Coronavirus Traps People Indoors

When bad weather traps people indoors, calls to the Seattle-area anti-domestic violence organization LifeWire spike.

Now, the city and its surrounding towns are convulsing with a different kind of natural disaster: the spread of the novel coronavirus, which similarly strands people inside as they’re forced to work from home or lose their jobs altogether. LifeWire’s executive director Rachel Krinsky said that’s very bad news for people facing domestic violence.

“We expect rising tension and likely rising violence,” said Krinsky. “Which makes everybody more vulnerable: the survivor and children in the home.”

Domestic violence experts anticipate that rates and severity of abuse will surge as public officials and communities try to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus through imposing restrictions or asking individuals to “social distance” or “self-isolate.” While these measures are unlikely to turn anybody into an abuser, people who already have violent partners will now be trapped at home with them — and facing the anxiety of losing their jobs and incomes, which also tends to increase the possibility of domestic violence.

“Abuse is about power and control,” said Crystal Justice, chief development and marketing officer for the National Domestic Violence Hotline. “And an abuser can use any tool to exert that power and control, including a national health concern, such as COVID-19.”

READ: Tenants and landlords are terrified Coronavirus will mean evictions.

So advocates across the country are rushing to find ways to help curb the coronavirus’ impact on survivors.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline hasn’t experienced an increase in calls about the coronavirus, but Justice expects that to change soon. Seattle and New York City, two of the most-affected areas, just began seeing mass numbers of people staying home from work in the past several days.

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If local or regional domestic violence groups are forced to suspend their own helplines, survivors who call in will be directly rolled over to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, Justice said.

In New York City, where Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a declaration of emergency Thursday evening, senior director of the crime victim assistance program at Safe Horizon Kimberlina Kavern has been fielding questions from survivors about coronavirus. People are asking: What will access to systems going to look like? Are the courts going to stay open? Is it going to be business as usual?

READ: Don’t believe these 4 wild Coronavirus conspiracy theories.

Safe Horizon provides counseling, legal aid, and shelters, among other services, for domestic abuse survivors. All of those services are still available, Kavern said, and the organization is holding daily meetings to strategize about COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

“It’s an ever-changing landscape, but I think everyone is doing everything that they can to try to keep critical services,” she said. The shelters are taking extra cleaning precautions, and domestic violence survivors may be able to teleconference into court proceedings. “We want to be really proactive. So, given that we don’t know what the landscape is gonna look like tomorrow — things could be quarantined at any time — we want to come up with a safety plan so that you’re as prepared as possible.”

A “safety plan” is a strategy to minimize risk to a survivor safe even if she’s still in contact, or even living, with her abusive partner. For example, that woman could try to avoid stairs and unsafe rooms — like bathrooms or kitchens, which tend to have sharp objects and hard surfaces — or set up a code word with neighbors who can dial 911.

“If everyone is in the house all the time, there’s no escape window.”

While both Justice and Kavern said their organizations are used to coming up with safety plans for people remaining in violent situations, those will now likely need to evolve as the proximity between an abuser and their victim increases. If schools close, survivors who have children may also need to factor that into their safety planning. That’s already fairly common: in 2018, about 83,000 of the calls, texts, and chats into the National Domestic Violence Hotline reported that their abusive situation involved children.

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