Now more than ever, survivors of domestic violence are facing some dangerous barriers while being isolated at home during the spread of COVID-19. Many survivors are trapped at home and have no alone time or privacy to reach out for help, and often no way to leave safely due to the abuser being at home constantly. Survivors’ safety or escape plans to leave may have been halted due to a variety of reasons, including abusers not going to work, kids not going to school, emergency shelters being full, fear of going to an emergency shelter due to not wanting to be around a lot of people, high-risk medical concerns or financial restrictions. Tensions in the household have worsened during this time, causing abusers to become more violent and terrifying for victims and their families. “We know that domestic violence is rooted in power and control. Right now, we are all feeling a lack of control over our lives and an individual who cannot manage that will take it out on their victim,” leading to more extreme violence and isolation from help and support systems (New York Times, 2020).
Survivors are experiencing different types of abuse from their abusive partners that they may have never dealt with before COVID-19. This includes, but is not limited to abusers preventing access to knowledge and resources about the pandemic, abusers sharing inaccurate information about COVID-19 to gain control or create more fear, preventing access to masks and cleaning supplies, an increase in child abuse, escalation of financial abuse or preventing access to health care, medical assistance or therapy. Survivors are now learning new ways to stay safe, as their lives have been drastically altered. School, daily routines and employment have all been altered, creating a new way of life that is already difficult for families who are not living in violence.
Here are some emotional and physical safety tips survivors can take during this time to increase their safety:
- Engage in self-care: This looks different for everyone. Listen to music, take a walk, watch a show or a movie, tell yourself three positive affirmations every day, squeeze a stress ball, journal, take a longer shower, color, create daily routines, exercise, go to a park or engage in deep breathing.
- Can you stay connected to your support systems safely? Can you reach out to a friend or family member? It may be helpful to stay connected to your support system, even if it is a text or a quick five-minute phone call.
- Can you safely call a domestic violence shelter for help? This may mean waiting for your abuser to fall asleep or thinking of an excuse to leave the house. After calling, make sure to delete your call log for safety.
- Be alert and recognize when your abuser is escalating or in the tension building phase. When your abuser is escalating, can you go for a walk or get out of the house before it escalates? Stay out of the kitchen or bathroom where your abuser could easily use items as a weapon or there are hard surfaces. Remember, you can still call 911 for help.
- Continue to have a safety plan with your children. Can you identify a safe neighbor or spot in your home that your child can go to when the abuser has become violent? Teach your child how to call 911 in these emergency situations. Can you have a safe word with your child? Can you engage in more activities with your child during this time to keep your children busy and separated from your abuser if he is home more?
- Remember the abuse is not your fault.
Remember you are not alone and you are the expert in your own life. You know what is best for you and your family. Some or many of these tips may not work for you, and that is okay. You can always call our 24-hour hotline number to create an individualized safety plan with an advocate, counselor or hotline specialist at 214.946.HELP (4357).
Written by Jordan Gates, LCSW, Women and Children’s Therapist