One of the dark consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown that has not received the attention it deserves is the rise in domestic violence cases with uneven trends at the local, state and national levels.
In Knoxville, Tennessee where I live, police are reporting a rise in domestic violence cases even as some domestic shelters see a drop in their crisis hotline phone calls. In New York City, local police report that last month domestic violence was down 15% compared to rates in March 2019. Yet, state troopers in New York State are reporting the exact opposite trend. Reporting by the New York Times attributes this difference between the city and the state to the number of resources available to domestic violence victims. People in New York City may have other resources and sources of support to turn to whereas in more rural parts of the state, state troopers and law enforcement agents are unfortunately victims’ only hope.
Outside the United States, domestic violence has also surged. Cities like Buenos Aires, Mexico City, La Paz, São Paulo and Santiago have all reported a rise in reporting of domestic abuse. Reuters reported that since lockdown has been imposed in Argentina on March 20th, the emergency line for abuse victims has seen a 67% rise in calls in comparison to last year. Last Sunday, alarmed by global increases in domestic violence, the UN called for action.
The quarantine is making it more difficult to reach out to those that may be experiencing abuse, especially when our only recourse is technology. During lockdowns and quarantines, people are stuck at home with their abusers, and cannot reach out to anyone, especially not by the telephone. Places where abused victims could seek help and find temporary shelter and resources have all transitioned online, leaving many further vulnerable to the whims of their abusers. From what I know, during this global pandemic, high rates of unemployment can compound abusive behavior inside households. Unemployment and government stimulus checks can be snatched by abusers. In other instances, unemployment can negatively impact the behavior of abusers, making them more likely to drink and turn to abusive behavior against intimate partners and family members. Also, unemployment and financial difficulties compounded by COVID-19 can decrease the ability of the victim to leave the situation. Many victims will find themselves in a tough bind: choosing the danger at home or the danger outside posed by the virus.
We know that violence against women is totally normalized in our society. The fact that Americans are being called to vote and choose between two alleged rapists should make this clearer for those that cast doubt on what I am saying. It seems that we are only interested in sensational acts and how violence screws everything up inside families and other relationships remains of little interest even among leftists. Yet the lockdown orders may be calling attention to this issue and getting everyday people involved in the health and safety of not only their immediate family members but also neighbors and strangers.
As soon as the lockdown orders were announced, a high school friend of mine posted on her Facebook page a message about hair products. Next to the products, she added a sentence “If you feel unsafe in your home message me privately and ask me about these curly hair products.” She would take this as a sign to continue communicating with the woman and to help her somehow. Since then, I have seen many friends ands strangers post similar things on social media–trying to use product testing as a way to reach out to women who may be in danger at home during quarantine. I wonder what other creative ways we could come up with to keep each other safe in these difficult times.
Over the next days and weeks we hope to continue publishing stories about daily life amid the Coronavirus. We are looking for testimonials from everyday people about workplace safety, unemployment and housing issues, struggles with paying bills and taking care of their loved ones as well as any acts of solidarity and collective action in these very difficult times. We want to hear from you! If you have a story that you want to share with us, please email the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.