Lincoln – Avoiding public spaces and working remotely can help to reduce the spread of COVID-19, but for those experiencing domestic violence, staying home may be a dangerous prospect, especially as job losses and financial strain continue to escalate.
“Domestic violence is rooted in power and control,” said Sheri Dawson, director of the Division of Behavioral Health. In a time where employees work remotely, and the CDC is encouraging social distancing, abusers may take advantage of an already stressful situation to gain more control. We are all feeling a lack of control in our day-to-day lives right now. An individual who cannot manage, will take it out on their victim. Survivors already in an abusive situation will likely face more extreme violence when they can no longer leave by going to work, visiting with family and friends. Social connectedness and safety planning with friends and family has never been more important.”
The National Domestic Violence Hotline outlines how COVID-19 could impact intimate partner violence survivors:
- Abusive partners may withhold necessary items, such as hand sanitizer or disinfectants.
- Abusive partners may share misinformation about the pandemic to control or frighten survivors, or to prevent them from seeking appropriate medical attention if they have symptoms.
- Abusive partners may withhold insurance cards, threaten to cancel insurance, or prevent survivors from seeking medical attention if they need it.
- Programs that serve survivors may be significantly impacted – shelters may be full or may even stop intakes altogether. Survivors may also fear entering shelter because of being in close quarters with groups of people.
- Survivors who are older or have chronic heart or lung conditions may be at increased risk in public places where they would typically get support, like shelters, counseling centers, or courthouses.
- Travel restrictions may impact a survivor’s escape or safety plan – it may not be safe for them to use public transportation or to fly.
- An abusive partner may feel more justified and escalate their isolation tactics.
Every situation of violence is different and needs different responses. For example, friends and family can interrupt or intervene to support loved ones, even during a pandemic. Agree on a code word that will alert you that your loved one needs an interruption from you or an outside intervention from the authorities. One code word could mean “call me now, so I can move to another room.” Another code word could mean “knock on my door now.” A third code word could mean “please call the authorities.”
If you are experiencing abuse, having a safety plan laid out can help you to protect yourself during this stressful time. A safety plan is a personalized, practical plan that includes ways to remain safe while in a relationship, planning to leave, or after you leave. You can learn more about safety plans here, and you can find an interactive guide to safety planning here. Because there may be limited shelter availability due to COVID-19, consider alternatives such as staying with family or friends, staying in motels, or sleeping in your vehicle. If you’re a friend or family member of someone experiencing abuse, encourage your loved one to think about their wellbeing, safety plan and practice self-care while they are in their home.
There are local and national resources for help. In Nebraska, reach out to the Nebraska Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence at https://www.nebraskacoalition.org/get_help/ or at (402) 476-6256. The Coalition maintains an online list of Nebraska’s network of domestic violence and sexual assault programs, spanning the state from Gering to Omaha. The Nebraska Family Helpline can be reached at (888) 866-8660.
National resources include the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-7233 (or log onto thehotline.org or text LOVEIS to 22522); The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) 1-800-656-4673, and the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline, 1-866-331-9474.