Our homes are supposed to be our safe havens, especially right now amongst the coronavirus outbreak. But, for people experiencing domestic violence, social distancing means being trapped inside with their abuser.
As cities around the United States, and even the world, go under lockdown, activists are worried that attempts to curb the coronavirus will inadvertently lead to an increase in domestic violence.
According to domestic violence advocates, domestic violence is already a deadly epidemic. One in three women around the world experience physical or sexual violence, mostly from an intimate partner, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). As the WHO notes: “This makes it the most widespread, but among the least reported human rights abuses.” Gender-based violence tends to increase during humanitarian emergencies and conflicts; “women’s bodies too often become battlefields”.
According to reports from China, the coronavirus has already caused a significant spike in domestic violence. Local police stations saw a threefold increase in cases reported in February compared with the previous year, according to the founder of an anti-domestic violence nonprofit. The founder claims that, according to their statistics, 90% of the causes of violence are related to the Covid-19 epidemic.
There is fear that America will follow the same pattern of abuse. A domestic violence hotline in Portland, Oregon, says calls doubled last week. And the national domestic violence hotline is hearing from a growing number of callers whose abusers are using Covid-19 to further control and isolate them. The hotlines say they are hearing of people being threatened to be thrown out on the street so they get sick, withholding financial resources, and even medical assistance.
With all attention focused on stopping the spread of COVID-19, the problem of private violence risks being overlooked or deprioritized by authorities. In the UK, for example, schools are now closed to everyone except for the children of key workers performing essential services. Domestic violence professionals have been left off this list as they are not seen as an essential service.
Dawn Butler, Labour’s women and equalities spokeswoman, has asked the prime minister to “urgently reconsider” this classification and consider implementing emergency funding to help people in danger escape domestic abuse during the crisis. “[T]wo women are killed every week by a partner or former partner,” Butler said. “If the Govt fails to prepare and plan more people will die.”
With the times that we are now living in, everyone is feeling fear and stress. Activists say that now more than ever we need to look out for the most vulnerable in our society. They are urging neighbors to be extra aware and vigilant of possible cases of domestic violence. Living in at-home isolation can cut people off from their communities, but experts are advising everyone to remember that we are all in this together.
What Constitutes Domestic Violence?
- Domestic violence is any violent or potentially violent act against someone in your household. Domestic violence charges can be brought based on the following types of relationships:
- The accused and the victim are married, were formally married, or currently live together
- The victim or the accused is pregnant by the other party
- The victim is related to the accused or their spouses – this includes parents, grandparents, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, in laws, or stepchildren
- The victim is a child who lives in the same residence as the accused
- The two parties involved have a romantic relationship
In general, if the alleged victim is related to the accused, lives with the accused, or is someone with whom the accused has had a sexual relationship, then the crime will likely fall under the umbrella of domestic violence.
Examples of Domestic Violence Charges
There are numerous criminal acts that may be considered domestic violence, including:
- Physical abuse: Any hitting, pushing, kicking, or slapping. Domestic violence charges can also arise from throwing objects, smashing things, or even just threatening to commit an act of physical violence.
- Sexual abuse: Pressuring or forcing another person to engage in sexual acts.
- Verbal abuse: Yelling, belittling, and name calling.
- Emotional abuse: Threatening, frightening, or even neglecting household members.