The Advocates is taking action to respond to increased domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. Beginning this week, we will be posting daily updates on our social media about the impact of COVID-19 in countries around the world.
Across the world, agencies are seeing an uptick in domestic violence cases as stay-at-home and limited movement orders have been put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although some countries report a decrease in domestic violence calls to hotlines, advocates warn that this is more than likely due to victims/survivors being unable to safely make a phone call while living with their abuser. In response, hotlines around the world have implemented text and email hotline services that help victims be more discrete when attempting to access help.
Many shelters have been named “essential services,” especially in the United States, and this has allowed shelters to maintain operation of their in-person services, although these shelters are quickly becoming overcrowded. Advocates also warn that the pandemic may cause less people to seek these services due to the fear of contracting the virus. In addition, when victims are at home with their abusers, it may be more difficult for them to leave. It may also be more difficult to obtain legal services during this time, although many courts have moved proceedings online and have extended certain stipulations in order to protect victims and their children.
Although there have been efforts across the globe to address the increased risk that victims of domestic violence are now facing, gaps remain. Advocates around the world, as well governments and inter-governmental bodies like the United Nations, have led discussions on the alleviation of these barriers.
Current state of affairs and principal concerns
Advocates around the world warn that shelter-at-home executive orders, sometimes called “safe at home” orders, will produce unintended and lethal consequences for domestic violence survivors, including:
- Increased violence due to various aggravating factors, such as economic constraints, job loss, increased alcohol consumption and drug use, close proximity, children being at home
- Pandemic-related abuse, such as:
- Threatening to put victims on the street if they show symptoms
- Making victims wash their hands until they bleed
- Hiding essential items like hand sanitizer and soap from the victim
- Threatening to cancel insurance
- Circulating misinformation to victims to cause fear and deter them from leaving or seeking help;
- Increased isolation from support systems, such as friends or family;
- Travel restrictions that impact a victim’s escape or safety plan, or where it may not be safe for them to use public transportation or fly;
- Decreased or eliminated access to safe havens like school, work, and community gatherings;
- Difficulty accessing services, because of an:
- Increased monitoring of phone activity by abusers
- Inability to make hotline calls safely with abuser home
- Decreased opportunities to escape
- Decreased shelter space or shelters repurposed by the government to service COVID-19 patients
- Fear of contracting the virus at shelters
- Hotlines overwhelmed by increase in calls
- Health systems that are overwhelmed by the pandemic, making it more difficult for survivors to access medical services, including therapy;
- Increased anxiety and re-traumatization;
- Mental health consequences;
- Decreased financial resources for victims to flee and support themselves due to job loss;
- Decrease in family court approvals of requests for hearings;
- Petitions not determined to be emergencies being dismissed or adjourned to a later date. These decisions may be made by someone in the court system screening electronically filed petitions, which could be life-or-death decisions for survivors;
- Impacts on health workers, many of whom are women;
- Reduced or limited access to vital sexual and reproductive health services, including for women subjected to violence.
What to do if you need help
If you are in immediate danger in the U.S., call 911.
For help in Minnesota, call DayOne Hotline at 1-866-223-1111 or text 612-399-9995.
For help in the U.S., call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE(7233) or text LOVEIS to 22522. American Indians and Alaska Natives can also call the StrongHearts Native Helpline at 1-844-7NATIVE (762-8483).
What The Advocates is doing to strengthen protections for women
The Advocates is currently collaborating with Violence Free Minnesota, MNCASA, and Standpoint to gather information about the challenges faced by Minnesota’s justice system in responding to domestic violence and sexual assault.
The Advocates is conducting fact-finding with systems actors to provide ongoing analyses of the issues and new challenges that systems actors and courts face under the COVID-19 situation that it can provide to Violence Free Minnesota, MNCASA, and Standpoint as they develop real-time guidance to strengthen systems’ responses.
This week, The Advocates will begin posting daily with COVID-19 response information for countries around the world. Follow @TheAdvocatesforHumanRights on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn) for daily COVID-19 updates for countries around the world.
For more information on violence against women, visit our website StopVAW.org.