One of the first things I learned about domestic violence is that the abuser often follows a pattern of controlling behavior. Using various justifications, they limit the target(s) of their violence to fewer and fewer “acceptable” behaviors, and fewer “acceptable” interactions with other people. Those struggling to survive the abuse often find themselves growing increasingly isolated, and their range of safe activities and expressions of emotion increasingly narrowed as they try to avoid “antagonizing” their abuser. Physical and behavioral isolation is a very real part of this. It means the abuser doesn’t have to worry as much about being caught, because there aren’t people to see the bruises on the survivor, and the changes in behavior.
Social isolation is necessary to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and reduce the death toll, but it is also putting a large number of people in a very dangerous situation. Just as single people are vulnerable to being overlooked, so too are those suffering abuse at the hands of the people they live with, and seeking help can be difficult and dangerous when the blanket expectation is that people won’t leave their homes. At the same time, most of the ways survivors could normally escape – planes, buses, and cross-country trains – are unavailable right now. Carolyn Bick at the South Seattle Emerald writes:
For most people, being stuck inside –– though at times tedious –– isn’t a life-or-death situation. The biggest risk for the majority of people sheltering in place right now is the novel coronavirus, the reason for the state’s current stay-home order, which Gov. Inslee extended until at least May 4. The order is meant to combat the spread of the virus, which causes COVID-19, the disease that has killed 262 people as of April 1, according to the state Department of Health coronavirus page.
For domestic violence survivors, the situation is different. Though they are at risk if they leave their homes, their wellbeing can be in just as much jeopardy if they stay inside. The problem is compounded in places like South Seattle and South King County as a whole, which don’t have as many or as comprehensive a selection of resources, when compared with wealthier areas of Seattle, said Doris O’Neal, who leads the area’s YWCA domestic violence services, in addition to other related programs.
This article also has numerous resources for people seeking help in their struggle to survive, and for friends and family of survivors (or abusers, for that matter) who want to help. I strongly recommend checking out the article, and looking at the materials linked at the end, whether or not you yourself are being attacked or controlled by someone you live with. The more everybody understands the problem, the warning signs, and how to help, the better we’ll be able to provide support for survivors.
All over the world, people who work to help survivors of domestic violence are trying to mitigate the harm that will be done by the current isolation. In France, women are being encouraged to use code words at pharmacies to get help:
In Nancy, a woman went to her local pharmacy on March 28 to report the violence. “The pharmacist had then informed the police by phone, thus triggering immediate intervention by the police,” François Pérain, the Nancy prosecutor, told ABC News.
Asked about the policy on national broadcaster France 2, Christophe Castaner, the Interior Minister, said that the lockdown put in place since March 17 in France to stem the COVID-19 pandemic had resulted in an increase in domestic violence.
In the area of the Paris police prefecture—which covers Paris and three surrounding suburbs—Castaner said it had increased by “36% in one week.”
On March 27, the Interior Minister had put a strategy in place with the president of the Pharmacists’ Guild that pharmacists would be a first port-of-call for victims of domestic violence.
The code word “mask 19” can be used by the victim if she is accompanied by her spouse, he had suggested. The use of a code is a system already implemented in Spain.
Sadly, domestic violence is a problem in all human cultures, as far as I’m aware, and the patterns are often the same. This means that regardless of where you live, mass social isolation is putting people at risk. Check out the resources from the South Seattle Emerald article – many of them have advice on what to do, in addition to country or region-specific outreach tools, and look up information on what options are available where you live (here’s one for my fellow UK residents, and a reddit post from a survivors forum with some useful stuff) The purpose of this isolation is to save lives, so let’s do what we can, in that spirit, to reduce the harm done in the process.
Hey everybody, I am once again asking for your assistance. I really need help paying my bills and keeping a roof over my head. Patreon.com is a way for you to help with that, even if it’s just a little bit, and get some perks and extra content in return. You control how much you give, and how long you give it, and every little bit really does help. When lots of people pitch in, it can make a huge difference. Please help if you’re able, and share my work with others. Thank you!