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5 Things You are Doing Right Now That Are Considered Domestic Violence During COVID-19

COVID-19 and Domestic Violence

“People are losing these pockets of rest, places where they can regroup and recharge.”

Domestic violence is a pervasive public health issue, one that is taken extremely seriously by law enforcement agencies and domestic violence victim advocacy groups. One in three women and one in four men have experienced violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime and in the United States alone, more than 12 million women and men are the victims of physical violence, stalking or rape by an intimate partner each year.

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The risk of domestic violence tends to increase during natural disasters or times of social upheaval, like COVID-19, a situation where mass efforts to reduce the spread of the virus have resulted in restrictions on movement and required victims of domestic violence and their abusers to limit their contact with others and remain at home under the same roof. Domestic violence is a broad term that encompasses a wide variety of acts that may constitute physical, economic, psychological or sexual abuse against a family member or intimate partner.

There are certain things you could be doing right now during the coronavirus crisis that may fall under the umbrella of domestic violence.

What is Domestic Violence?

Many people think of domestic violence as physical abuse or violence, but the truth is that there are many different types of abusive or coercive behaviors that may be considered domestic violence that don’t necessarily result in physical harm, including insults, intimidation or threats of violence. Broadly defined, domestic violence is a pattern of behavior that a person uses to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner, whether the partners are married, living together or dating. And while a vast majority of domestic violence cases involve a female victim and male perpetrator, domestic violence can happen to virtually anyone, regardless of their gender, age, race, sexual orientation, income level, education, gender identity or expression.

Types of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence can take on many different forms, including, but not limited to, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, willful intimidation or any other abusive or coercive behavior carried out as part of a systematic cycle of exerting power and control over an intimate partner. Many people think of domestic violence as strictly a women’s issue, but men can also be the victim of violence or abuse perpetrated by an intimate partner. The severity and frequency of domestic violence can vary a great deal from case to case, but the one constant element characteristic of domestic violence is the consistent effort by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over the other. The following are the five most common types of domestic violence:

  • Physical abuse – Any forceful or violent behavior against an intimate partner, including hitting, shoving, slapping or biting. Physical abuse also includes forcing alcohol and/or drug use upon a partner or denying him or her medical care.
  • Emotional Abuse – Undermining an intimate partner’s sense of self-esteem and/or self-worth. Emotional abuse can include name-calling, constant criticism, diminishing a partner’s abilities or damaging the relationship between a partner and his or her children.
  • Economic Abuse – Maintaining total control over financial resources, withholding a partner’s access to money or forbidding a partner from obtaining employment for the purpose of making him or her financially dependent.
  • Psychological Abuse – Non-physical abuse designed to control, punish or manipulate an intimate partner. Some examples of psychological abuse include threatening physical harm, causing fear by intimidation and intentionally isolating an intimate partner from friends, family, school and/or work.
  • Sexual Abuse – Any unwanted sexual contact or sexual advances or comments perpetrated against an intimate partner using physical force or coercion.

Domestic Violence and COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown has resulted in emergency orders for people across the country to stay at home, social distance, self-isolate and limit contact with others outside of their homes, which is enough to cause friction in even the best of relationships. This is especially true in cases where spouses are suddenly forced to work from home or for those who find themselves out of work altogether. In relationships where abuse is present, however, being told to stay at home and self-isolate can potentially become a safety issue. Many people have lost their jobs or had their hours at work significantly reduced, resulting in financial insecurity and feelings of a lack of control, which can cause increased stress at home and add additional strain to volatile relationships.

Before the quarantine, spouses experiencing domestic violence may have felt some reprieve when they were able to leave the home to go to work or visit with friends and family members. With present stay at home orders in place, however, many victims have had this option taken away from them. Says the CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, Katie Ray-Jones, “People are losing these pockets of rest, places where they can regroup and recharge.” Additionally, domestic violence victims may find themselves with fewer opportunities to call for help because of coronavirus stay at home orders or they may feel as though they can’t turn to loved ones for help for fear of exposing them to the virus.

The availability of domestic violence support services is also limited during the COVID-19 crisis, as is the ability of domestic violence victims to access these services. As two dozen U.S. senators from nearly 20 states wrote in a letter sent to the Department of Health and Human Services in March, “An unintended but foreseeable consequence of these drastic measures will be increased stress at home, which in turn creates a greater risk for domestic violence.” The letter implored the Trump administration to permit agencies offering support to domestic violence victims and their children to remain accessible during the ongoing pandemic.

Behaviors That May Be Considered Domestic Violence During COVID-19

There are more than 928,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States and as this number continues to rise and the COVID-19 quarantine drags on, there are growing concerns that the rate of domestic violence could increase dramatically during this unprecedented time of social distancing and self-isolation. Because domestic violence is a broad term that covers a wide range of actions, there are certain behaviors you might be engaging in that you wouldn’t necessarily think could be interpreted as domestic violence. With the emergency measures put in place to reduce the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, including social distancing and stay at home orders, we are forced to think about matters like domestic violence in new ways. The following are five things you are doing right now that could be considered domestic violence during COVID-19:

Refusing to isolate yourself from members of your family when you are experiencing symptoms of coronavirus

Any person experiencing symptoms of coronavirus is encouraged to separate themselves from other members of their household, as much as possible. That means staying in a specific room and using a different bathroom while you recover. If you are experiencing symptoms of coronavirus, including a fever, cough, shortness of breath, headache or sore throat, and you refuse to isolate yourself from members of your family, your behavior could constitute domestic violence.

Forcing your partner to leave your home because he or she is experiencing symptoms of coronavirus

While it is important to take certain safety precautions to protect yourself and others in your home and community from the spread of COVID-19, home isolation is encouraged even if someone in your household is experiencing symptoms of coronavirus. If your partner is sick, he or she should stay home, except to get medical care. By forcing your partner to leave your home to protect yourself or other family members from coronavirus, you could be committing domestic violence.

Threatening to force your partner to leave your home so that he or she gets sick

Most people don’t realize that, in addition to physical abuse, a pattern of using threats and intimidation to control or manipulate an intimate partner is also considered domestic violence. This can include everything from threats of physical violence to threats to commit suicide or threats to force your partner to leave your home so that he or she gets sick. Even if you don’t follow through, this type of threat could be considered domestic violence or psychological abuse during the coronavirus crisis.

Using COVID-19 as an excuse to isolate your partner from his or her friends and family

Isolation and control are hallmarks of domestic violence. Perpetrators of domestic violence will often try to prevent their partner from having contact with friends, family members or support systems in order to make their partner solely dependent on them. During the ongoing coronavirus crisis, widespread stay at home orders mean people across the country are being asked to self-quarantine and isolate themselves from others to stop the spread of the coronavirus. However, if you use coronavirus quarantine requirements as an opportunity to further isolate your partner from his or her loved ones or network of support, your behavior could be considered a form of domestic violence.

Withholding medical assistance or financial resources

Domestic violence can also take the form of financial abuse. Abusers will often control all financial assets in a relationship, sometimes preventing their partner from working outside the home, refusing to give them access to bank accounts and credit cards, and/or controlling their financial independence by giving them an allowance. If your partner is sick during COVID-19 and you withhold medical care or refuse to provide him or her with the money needed to seek life-saving treatment, your behavior could constitute physical or economic abuse, which are types of domestic violence.

Domestic Violence on the Rise in the U.S.

Domestic violence hotlines nationwide have seen an influx of calls from victims of domestic violence since the implementation of widespread stay at home orders, and law enforcement officials in cities across the country have reported an increase in the number of domestic violence cases during COVID-19. Of the 22 law enforcement agencies across the U.S. that responded to a request by NBC News to provide data on domestic violence calls, 18 departments reported an increase in the month of March, at the beginning of the coronavirus quarantine. The first coronavirus-related death was reported at the end of February and businesses began closing their doors in mid-March, after the president declared COVID-19 a national emergency. The first major shelter in place order was issued in the California Bay Area, followed soon after by other cities and statewide stay at home orders. It is not uncommon for domestic violence rates to rise during emergency situations, such as wars, natural disasters and economic crises, and COVID-19 certainly qualifies as an emergency situation. Tensions are running higher than ever in households across the country right now and experts say this will likely cause a continued spike in domestic violence cases.

Resources for Victims of Domestic Violence

As people across the country are forced to stay home, self-isolate and social distance in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, stress levels continue to rise and the line between having a heated argument and engaging in abusive behavior may become blurred. Divorce is steadily on the rise during COVID 19. It is important to remember that a partner who was never physically or emotionally abusive before COVID-19 is not likely to suddenly become violent just because they are required to stay at home in quarantine. It is normal to occasionally argue with your spouse or intimate partner, but if you find yourself or your partner frequently yelling, making threats or getting involved in physical altercations, your relationship could be considered emotionally or physically abusive. In the midst of the coronavirus quarantine, there are a number of resources still available to victims of domestic violence in the U.S., including the National Domestic Violence Hotline. The hotline is available 24 hours a day and can be reached by calling 1-800-799-SAFE. For victims of domestic violence in Illinois, the Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached by calling 1-877-TO END DV.

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