While we adjust to COVID-19, public health officials have repeatedly issued the same important message: stay at home. Staying home and limiting contact with others reduces the likelihood of spreading COVID-19. This is especially important for vulnerable populations.

But what if home isn’t a safe place to be?

What about people who must shelter in place at home with an abusive partner?

Rates of domestic violence skyrocket during natural disasters and other large scale crises1. Evidence also suggests that people who have never experienced domestic violence before such an event are more likely to become a victim in the time during and immediately following a disaster2. Many factors contribute to this occurance such as financial strain, food insecurity, loss of housing, and uncertainty about the future, all of which can increase stress and induce feelings of powerlessness. Abusers may seek to regain control in their lives at the expense of others by exerting power over their victims. It’s especially high risk in a time of social distancing and sheltering in place when victims have limited contact with others, may not be able to leave their homes, and may be medically vulnerable.

Relationship violence takes a variety of forms most commonly including emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, stalking, and controlling behavior. These behaviors may continue and/or escalate during times of crisis, and it’s possible that new forms of power and control could be introduced.

What other forms might relationship violence take during COVID-19?

Isolation

Abusers often isolate their partners from others as a means of controlling them, and this can be much easier to accomplish while sheltering in place when social contact is inherently limited. An abuser may control their partner’s access to cellphones, laptops, or vehicles to prevent them from contacting their social supports.

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse is common in abusive relationships. Many people could be struggling financially due to job loss, reduced work hours, and increased medical costs. Abusive partners may take or control their partner’s earned money leaving them financially vulnerable. Many survivors are also financially dependent on their abusers which poses a significant barrier to safely leaving the relationship.

Threats of Homelessness

Having a safe place to shelter in place is critically important during a health pandemic. An abuser could threaten to evict their partner or other household members from the home in an effort to control or manipulate them.

Denying Basic Needs

Abusers may engage in behavior like hiding or restricting access to soap, medicine, or food from their partner. This leaves the victim entirely dependent on their abuser for necessities if they are unable to leave the home or obtain them through other means.

Safety for Survivors While Sheltering in Place

If you are experiencing interpersonal violence, there are steps you can take to help keep yourself safe3The Fontaine Center at the University Health Center offers Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention (RSVP) services at UGA including confidential advocates available 24/7 even while campus is closed to further discuss safety and resources.

Consider creating a safety plan

While you may not have control over the actions of others, a safety plan represents strategies you can use to increase personal safety and prepare in advance for the possibility of violence. A safety plan is individualized, and RSVP advocates are available 24/7 to assist you in developing a safety plan.

Continue to stay in touch with your support network

While social distancing, especially when home with an abusive partner, social isolation is common. It’s important more so now than ever to stay connected with social support systems. In-person contact may not be possible, but text, phone, video chat, and social media are all avenues for social connection. You can also plan regular check-ins with a trusted person as part of their safety plan. Just make sure to use your devices safely as abusers can monitor communication as a means of control.

Know there is help available

Sheltering in place may make you second guess reaching out for help and create confusion about what resources are available. The RSVP office would like to reassure anyone impacted by interpersonal violence that help is available. All survivors deserve respect and safety, and RSVP advocates are here 24/7.

The Fontaine Center offers a variety of services for students impacted by interpersonal violence including academic advocacy, counseling, resource referrals, safety planning, emotional support, and more.

The Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention (RSVP) 24/7 Confidential Hotline is 706-542-7233 (SAFE). Visit our website for more information about our office and local resources.

Other resources available to victims of dating and domestic violence are also available:

  • Project Safe: 24/7 Hotline 706-543-3331; Text Line 706-765-8019
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE

Written by: Hannah Green, Advocate Counselor, Relationship & Sexual Violence Prevention, The Fontaine Center

Sources:

2. Parkinson, Debra and C. Zara. “The hidden disaster: Domestic violence in the aftermath of natural disaster.” Australian Journal of Emergency Management, Jan.2013, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/288432753_The_hidden_disaster_Domestic_violence_in_the_aftermath_of_natural_disaster. Accessed 30 March 2020.

3. “3 Safety Tips for COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Quarantined Domestic Violence Victims.”SafeHorizon, 2020, https://www.safehorizon.org/programs/3-safety-tips-coronavirus-quarantine-domestic-violence. Accessed 30 March 2020.

1. “Violence and disasters.” World Health Organization, 2005, https://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/publications/violence/violence_disasters.pdf. Accessed 30 March 2020.