Rules of Social Distancing Don’t Apply to Domestic Violence

During this pandemic, a virus isn’t the only thing that has spread rapidly. Domestic violence hotlines are breaking new records, lighting up both globally and nationally. According to a recent piece by CNN, the Illinois domestic abuse hotline hit its highest daily call volume in its 20-year history. Sheriff Ed Gonzalez of Texas’ was quoted in the same article saying, “It’s not that all of a sudden the virus comes along and people become abusive – it’s already there…Many people will not be killed by Covid-19, but instead they’ll die at the hands of an intimate partner.”

What is causing this spike in physical and sexual violence? Our recent podcast guest Angie McIlquham, Director of Sexual Assault Victim Services at The Bridge to Hope explained the direct correlation between COVID-19 life and these alarming new statistics. She fears that the numbers may actually be under-reported as many who are trapped at home with their abuser may be prevented from calling a crisis line for help. She attributes this escalation to several factors including job losses nationwide causing increased amounts of economic stress and violence in the home. Isolation is another big component that makes this a “prime time” for an abuser when their victims are cut off from community ties.

This pandemic is a catalyst for vulnerability – while a majority of victims are female Angie says any marginalized group including members of the LGBTQ community, the elderly, or anyone in poverty are at a very high risk of being pushed into more desperate situations at this time. There is also a lack of key community resources for those looking to escape from an abusive situation as many shelters aren’t able to take victims in. She says it isn’t a simple matter of “leaving” for victims. Similarly, to those trapped in trafficking, any kind of abuse holds its victims by complex psychological chains, many stay because they simply have nowhere to go.

Angie encourages those who have privilege to “check it” – instead of making a judgment on someone’s situation and how they are trying to survive, ask yourself why they are making this decision. Rather than asking someone why they’re staying with an abusive partner or telling them what to do, Angie says a great way to engage with someone being abused is to ask them what they need, otherwise you are trying to control them the same way their abuser does.

She also encourages those in these situations that there is hope for them. Adding that while they may not see progress overnight it is so important to develop your own safety plan which may include reaching out to a trusted friend or a crisis line even if you just need someone to talk to because you shouldn’t remain in isolation. The road may not be easy, she says, but it isn’t one anyone should have to walk alone.

National Domestic Violence Hotline Call 1-800-799-7233 or text LOVEIS to 22522

Available 24/7. Can connect callers with local resources and immediate support. Also available through an online chat tool.

National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-4673

Provided by RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network). Available 24/7. Also available through an online chat tool.

Crisis Text Line Text HOME to 741741

Available 24/7 for victims of abuse and any other type of crisis.

Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-422-4453

Available 24/7 in 170 different languages.

Office on Women’s Health Helpline 1-800-994-9662

Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Abuse: https://www.wcasa.org/

End Abuse WI for Domestic Violence & Sexual Abuse: https://www.endabusewi.org/

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