We’ve all heard the now-common refrain shared by politicians, corporations, and celebrities since the COVID-19 pandemic came to the United States: “We’re all in this together.” And while the intention behind the sentiment is positive, it’s also not entirely true. For some, life during COVID-19 has meant sheltering-in-place for an extended period of time. For others, it has meant leaving the safety of home and risking exposure because often overlooked work has now been labeled “essential.” Some people have gone months without so much as touching another human being. Others, especially moms, can barely recall the last time they had a moment to themselves. Some entrepreneurs are making tough decisions and letting people go, while others are able to pivot their businesses and thrive in a new working environment.
And for the one in four women and one in nine men in the United States who experience domestic violence, COVID-19 has meant an increase in abuse. Domestic violence cases have risen as much as 20% globally during the pandemic, as reported by the BBC, and these numbers do not reflect the instances that go unreported. Between March 16 and May 7, the National Domestic Violence Hotline received 5,300 COVID-19 related calls in the United States alone, as reported by TODAY. Isolation and the inability to go outside, or even make up a believable excuse to go outside, coupled with abusive partners working-from-home and being around their victims more frequently, the loss of a job or income that would result in financial dependence, and abusers taking their fears, anxieties, and frustrations related to the pandemic out on their victims, have all made COVID-19 the “perfect storm” for domestic abuse.
We’re not all impacted by COVID-19 in the same way, and we’re not all provided the same level of support, resources, and financial assistance to navigate this pandemic safely. But in the spirit of “we’re all in this together,” we can, in ways both big and small, all find ways to help victims of domestic abuse and interpersonal violence both now and in the future.
1. Donate to these organizations
Monetary support is, as always, the most impactful. The following organizations are dedicated to providing DV victims, including LGBTQ+ victims, who are more likely to experience violence at the hands of a partner or spouse, with online resources, legal aid, shelter, financial assistance, and a path towards safety. So, if you are financially able, please consider donating to one (or all!) of the following (and make those donations recurring!).
2. Check in frequently and often
If you suspect and/or know of someone who is being abused, check in with them as frequently as possible. Isolation allows domestic violence to thrive, so letting the person know that there is someone they can speak to — and who wants to speak to them — is a vital step towards safety and security.
This can and is most likely to be difficult, as many victims won’t be able to find a moment away from their abusers to talk on the phone, text, or message someone. It can be even harder for them to secure access to a phone or computer that isn’t constantly monitored by their abuser.
This is why creating a safety plan is important. If your friend, coworker, family member, or acquaintance can go outside and maintain social distancing, perhaps you can meet them for a safe chat. If they do have access to a phone, and they know which days it is safer to speak to people than others, pick a date and time to chat and/or check in. When victims know they have a support system ready and waiting to help them, they’re more likely to take the necessary steps that will eventually end the cycle of abuse.
3. Know the warning signs of domestic violence
It cannot be up to victims to reach out for help. For the reasons already discussed, that can simply be impossible. So instead of waiting for someone to tell you they’re being abused, educate yourself on the warning signs of abuse. That way, you can be better equipped to help a friend, neighbor, family member, coworker, or acquaintance if and when they need it.
There are many warning signs that a person is an abuser, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, including but certainly not limited to extreme jealousy, unpredictability, a bad temper, embarrassing or humiliating their romantic partner in front of others, and controlling their partner’s finances.
There are also plenty of signs that a person is being abused, as listed by the Department of Health & Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health, including being afraid of making their partner angry, having unexplained cuts or bruises, constantly excusing their abuser’s behavior, self-isolation and withdrawing from friends and family members (including not answering phone calls, emails, or text messages, and showing a noticeable change in their personality).
4. Talk about domestic violence and relationship abuse publicly and frequently
Victims of domestic violence know who they can safely turn to when they need help, and who they cannot. Let those around you know that you’re a person who can and will help but being vocal about domestic violence, its prevalence, and the myths that make it that much harder for victims to leave their abusers.
Someone who is being abused isn’t going to ask for, or even take, help from someone who, upon reading and/or hearing about a national story on spousal abuse or interpersonal violence, publicly asks via Facebook, “Well, why didn’t she leave sooner?” The person who asks, “Well, why didn’t she come forward years ago?” isn’t going to wake up to a message from a family member who was just abused and needs money to leave. The person who publicly victim-blames a celebrity who shared their story of domestic violence will never hear from their friend who worries what mood their boyfriend is going to be in when he stops working for the day.
Be vocal about your support of those who have been or are currently experiencing domestic violence. Do the internal work of checking your own biases and misunderstandings, especially when a high-profile case is discussed nationally, and ask those in your social media circles to do the same. Not only are you working to dismantle the shame and stigma that keeps victims tethered to their abusers, you’re letting everyone who is friends with and/or follows you know that if they need help, they can turn to you.
5. Write down (and when necessary, share) these hotline numbers
It is understandable that, when suspecting a neighbor or someone you know well is experiencing domestic abuse, you wouldn’t want to involve the police. This is especially true if the suspected victim is Black or non-white.
Thankfully, there are hotlines you can call that will be able to provide assistance without involving a local police department, including the following:
The National Domestic Violence Hotline: call 1-800-799-7233 or text LOVEIS to 222522
RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline: call 1-800-656-HOPE
Safe Horizons: call 1-800-621-4673
6. But seriously, donate your money
Have we said it once already? Yes. Are we sorry we’re saying it again? Absolutely not.
At a time of so much uncertainty and financial instability, and when states who have reopened are now seeing a surge of COVID-19 cases, the difficulties domestic violence victims face are arguably more dire than they’ve been in recent history. Financially supporting the organizations that are doing the on-the-ground work to care for, help, and essential free victims from their abusers is without a doubt the most impactful thing you can do, now and always.