Angela DuBois, MA, LLP
Home is where we should feel secure and comfortable. - Catherine Pulsifer
On April 9, Governor Whitmer extended the Michigan state shutdown until April 30, hoping this will slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect our communities. While there is mixed reaction regarding her decision, there is one group who is becoming increasingly worried as each day passes: victims of domestic violence, specifically, those who are still living with their abusers. Every year in the United States, 12 million people are impacted by interpersonal violence (e.g. physical, emotional, psychological, financial, sexual, monitoring/stalking, spiritual, and legal abuse). This was before COVID-19, and it is expected these numbers will rise with state-issued quarantines.
A simple Google search shows startling statistics of increased domestic violence around the world as countries began COVID-19 related quarantines. Most countries did not take this increase in domestic violence into account and were left scrambling to find housing for victims, as traditional shelters were filled to capacity following mandated shut-in orders.
Specific to Midland County, in an article published in the Midland Daily News in April 4, 2020, Prosecutor J. D Brooks and City of Midland Chief Nicole Ford noted an initial increase in domestic violence cases just prior to the Governor’s “Stay Home Stay Safe” order which was initially announced March 23; however, both then shared a tapering off of the cases. Midland County Sheriff Scott Stephenson reported he believed it was too early in the pandemic to get a true idea of crime statistics, though early statistics showed a slight increase in domestic calls (which are calls that prove to be most fatal for officers to respond to).
Though we can all be hopeful that in Midland County, nationally, and worldwide, the number of domestic violence situations will decline, there is reason to believe they will continue to increase as we take proactive and protective measures to fight the spread of COVID-19.
§ As a society we have lost a substantial amount of a power and control over our lives while engaging in social distancing and state shutdowns. This loss of power and control is especially dangerous with an abuser. As abusers feel more powerless, they will find ways to regain that power and control over their victim.
§ Abusers want to isolate their victims from support systems for many reasons. Due to social distancing, it is now “socially acceptable” for them to ramp up the isolation of their victims, which allows even more power and control of the abuser, and continues to shatter the victim’s support network further.
§ Any supports the victim may have had are further damaged as both the victim and the abuser are now home together all the time. Conversations with others over the internet or phone such as family, friends, attorneys, and therapists can be more easily monitored.
§ The longer the quarantine goes, the more the families will feel the financial stress. Domestic violence is three times more likely to occur when a couple is experiencing financial stress; in Michigan for the week ending April 4, almost 385,000 jobless claims were filed according to the US Department of Labor.
§ There is also confusion for some as to what “Stay Home Stay Safe” means and people are left wondering if they are able to get out and go for a drive if feeling elevated. Without feeling as though people have a natural out, there is a higher chance of engaging in destructive and physical behaviors when angry.
We must be mindful of the impact of the “Stay Home Stay Safe” Initiative on all populations. Staying home is a necessity in order to save lives. However, the victims of domestic violence and their children are now at higher risk. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimate in homes where abuse between adult partners occurs, there is a 45-60% chance of co-occurring child abuse. Even if they are not physically attacked, children may witness 70-80% of abuse occurring in the home. There are both short-term and long-term impacts on the adult and children victims of domestic violence, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), fear of harm or abandonment, excessive worry or guilt, lying, shame, poor judgement, and fear of the future.
Seeking services for victims of domestic violence is never easy and has the potential to be even more difficult during the quarantine; however, it is possible. Reaching out to 211 for mental health services and domestic violence agencies is a good first step. Teletherapy services are available and therapists knowledgeable about domestic violence can work with clients to help create a safe space based on what is available for the client. Please be cautious with calls and emails and consider deleting any from history for safety.