By Devan Coombes

July 16, 2020

COVID-19 has caused a lot of damage in our country and around the world in various forms. There is no doubt that the world and its culture will permanently change in response to the virus.

Beneath the crisis of COVID-19, a quiet killer is still preying. Domestic violence rates have sky-rocketed since the shutdown and the mandatory quarantines and victims are forced to lock down with their abuser with little escape and hardly any access to resources.

Many factors are leading to these rising numbers. The National Domestic Violence Hotline has said that their “contact volume has increased by 9%” and that this rate will likely only go up. A substantial percentage of those surveyed have also said that COVID-19 has directly made their situation worse. Unfortunately, we do not have an exact number of how much domestic violence has increased from the pandemic. Yet, despite COVID-19, nearly 40% of women do not report any type of violence despite their situations, and fewer than 10% of women seek help from authorities and other resources. So, the levels at which hotline calls have increased is very concerning, and we can only imagine the number of women who are suffering in silence.

There is previous evidence that domestic violence rates increase during large, public crises. After Hurricane Katrina, reports in Mississippi went up by 35%. After Mount St. Helens erupted, reports increased by nearly 46% in Washington. This has continued to be a pattern throughout different catastrophic events like hurricanes, earthquakes, and even wars. This happens not only in the United States, but across the world. Following the bushfires in Australia in 2009, reports went up drastically as well.

COVID-19 is different, however, in that it won’t create a feeling of togetherness as it ends. Traditionally, natural disasters, like the eruption of Mount St. Helens, see spikes in community camaraderie and teamwork to try and fix what has been broken and restore normalcy. Given the nature of COVID-19, it will be quite the opposite as social distancing becomes the new normal. Resources for these women in crisis situations, like non-profits, call centers, women’s shelters, and even the courts, are strictly forced to remain closed or operate under limited circumstances. Previously, it was found that domestic violence rates continue to spike for about a year after a catastrophic event occurs. With COVID-19, this will likely be worse due to the nature of the pandemic.  

Preventing school shutdowns could have contributed to fewer domestic violence reports. Teachers are pivotal in catching violence at home through their students, since they are mandatory reporters and are often the first to catch and report such violence. Nearly 20% of all domestic violence reports come from schools. Now that children are no longer in schools, many domestic violence cases may fly under the radar. As women, and now children, are prevented from leaving the home for school or work because of COVID-19 restrictions, the abuse at home may have serious, life-threatening consequences.  

Isolating a victim is now easier than ever. Even as we begin to go “back to normal” as a society, the public and government will still encourage social distancing and thus encourage forms of isolation. This only serves to help the abuser instead of the victim.

Stress will also play a large factor in the rising rates. As people continue to lose their jobs, remain paranoid about the virus, and see the financial effects of a crippling economy, stress will rise. This could easily set off an abuser or cause the situation to worsen, especially since stress hormones can often lead to aggression. Alcohol use has also skyrocketed, and we are now seeing alcohol sales rise to 243% Alcohol brought into any type of violent situation can, and often times, only makes it worse.

Due to the shutdown, the majority of resources previously used by women in such crisis situations are now getting delayed and, in some cases, completely shut down. Shelters are facing closures due to health concerns for their provided living arrangements. Call centers have experienced delays due to their mandatory switch to virtual methods, and legal services are forced to go virtual, and some are even forced to shut down.

So, what do we do?

We need to talk about it. This shouldn’t be an invisible crisis. We are all facing isolation, but we can still support each other virtually. Check in on your friends and the people in your community. Use social media to spread awareness of the different virtual resources that are now becoming available. Call lines, text message reporting, therapy applications, online legal services and more are now readily available. COVID-19 and its­­ effects is costing us lives. Tt doesn’t need to cost more by domestic and family violence.

If you or someone you know is experiencing violence in the home, please call one of the following hotlines.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE)

National Child Abuse Hotline/Childhelp 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)

National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-4673 (HOPE)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)

National Human Trafficking Resource Center/Polaris Project Call: 1-888-373-7888 | Text: HELP to BeFree (233733)

Break the Cycle 202-824-0707

Battered Women’s Justice Project 1-800-903-0111

Futures Without Violence: The National Health Resource Center on Domestic Violence 1-888-792-2873

About the Author

Devan Coombes is a rising junior at the University of Virginia studying Government with a concentration in American Politics and a minor in Business Entrepreneurship. On campus, Devan is an active member of her College Republicans chapter, RUF Ministry, and Gamma Phi Beta.

Devan has experience working various political campaigns as a volunteer, staffer, political director, and campaign manager. She was an intern for Denver Riggleman for Congress and a volunteer for Trump Victory. She has also lobbied for gun rights and tax issues with her College Republicans chapter.

Reach her at [email protected] or on social media at @devancoombes.