As COVID-19 cases surged in the United States, stay-at-home orders were put in place, schools began to close, many workers were furloughed or laid off, and other measures were implemented to protect the public and prevent a widespread outbreak. This resulted in domestic partners and families spending more time together at home. This has left many survivors trapped with their abusers, creating a perfect storm for Intimate Partner Violence (IPV).
While there isn’t comprehensive evidence to conclude that the rate of IPV has increased during COVID-19, many reports have indicated a large spike in IPV since COVID-19 first started. Overall, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men will experience violence from their partners in their lifetime, and the pandemic has only exacerbated traditional IPV factors. October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and with the ongoing pandemic disrupting daily life, it’s important to raise awareness and give voice to a subject so often masked in silence.
What is IPV?
IPV does not discriminate. It affects millions of men and women of every race, religion, culture, and socio-economic status. While it is oftentimes physical violence, it is not just black eyes and bruises. IPV is a pattern of behavior used to establish power and control over a survivor. It includes threats, humiliation, yelling, stalking, manipulation, isolation, and other tactics that belittle the survivor and create a forced sense of dependency.
It’s not always easy to tell if a relationship is abusive, and in many cases, abusive people appear like ideal partners at the beginning of a relationship. Abusive behavior may not become apparent until later on and emerges and intensifies over time. Every relationship is different, and domestic violence takes on different shapes and forms, but some common signs are:
- Exerting strict control over a partner, especially financially and socially.
- Emotional abuse, including insulting, demeaning, or shaming a partner.
- Isolating a partner from friends and family.
- Extreme jealousy of a partner’s friends or time spent away from them.
- Needing constant contact including texts and calls.
- Inexplicable injuries.
- Expressing fear around a partner.
- Extreme intimidation and threats.
Those signs only scratch the surface of IPV. Abuse can manifest itself in a number of ways from verbal to sexual. Ultimately, understanding the various ways that abuse appears can prepare you, and others, to respond safely to situations.
How Has COVID-19 Affected IPV?
Unfortunately, home is not a safe haven for all. With stay-at-home orders in place and recommended self-quarantine, many IPV survivors are in perpetual proximity to their abusers. Stress, isolation, and financial strain are all circumstances that can compromise a survivor’s safety, and they are all subsequent factors of the pandemic.
Survivors are finding themselves at the hands of unique circumstances. COVID-19 has impacted every facet of the world around us. That includes the tactics in which abusers leave survivors vulnerable and dependent. Here are some ways in which COVID-19 can uniquely impact IPV:
- Abusive partners may withhold necessary items, such as hand sanitizer or disinfectant.
- 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 a 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.
Ultimately, the toll COVID-19 takes on survivors won’t show up on tests, and can’t be treated with a vaccine. The long-term consequences the pandemic has on survivors won’t be understood for years, but survivors and bystanders are not powerless.
What Can You Do If You’re In An Abusive Relationship?
You are not alone, and you are never to blame for the abusive actions of others. Your safety is our first priority. The truth is, it can be hard to recognize or accept that you’re in an abusive relationship, but it only takes a couple of warning signs to raise a red flag. Recognizing that something is wrong is the first step.
We encourage survivors to have a safety plan. The National Domestic Violence Hotline can help you create a Safety Plan that is personalized, practical, and safe. There are also steps you can take to keep yourself safe:
- Find a place you can retreat to safety.
- Enlist support from a trusted friend or family member you can call.
- If necessary, use a code word or phrase to indicate you need help.
- Memorize the phone numbers of people and agencies you might need to call in an emergency.
- Make sure you can easily access:
- identification (Social Security card and driver’s license).
- birth and marriage certificates.
- credit cards, safe deposit box keys, and bank information.
- health insurance information.
- any documentation, photos, medical or police reports relating to previous episodes of abuse.
Ultimately, your safety is the most important. If you’re experiencing a crisis you can call the 24/7 National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
What Can You Do If You Know Or Suspect Someone Is In An Abusive Relationship?
We all play a role in preventing IPV and protecting each other. Recognizing the signs of abusive behavior that may signal IPV is critical. To end IPV we must educate ourselves and others, help those who are being abused, speak up, and be engaged bystanders. According to Joyful Heart Foundation, there are steps you can do to support a survivor and be a source of comfort.
LISTEN without judgment. Oftentimes you do not need to have the words or the answers for a person. Simply listening to survivors and letting them open up about their experiences can help them feel less isolated and lonely.
VALIDATE their experiences. Letting a survivor know you believe them could change their life. Here are some helpful phrases you can use to support survivors:
- “I’m so sorry this happened to you.”
- “I believe you.”
- “This is not your fault.”
- “You’re not alone. I’m here for you and I’m glad you told me.”
Many times, survivors will blame themselves for what happened and feel immense amounts of doubt and denial. It’s important to remind survivors that they are never to blame for the abusive actions of others. The responsibility lies solely with the abuser. Here are some phrases you can communicate to survivors to reassure them:
- “Nothing you did or could have done differently makes this your fault.”
- “The responsibility is on the person who hurt you.”
- “No one ever has the right to hurt you.”
- “I promise, you didn’t ask for this.”
- “I know that it can feel like you did something wrong, but you didn’t”
- “It doesn’t matter if you did or didn’t _____. No one asks to be hurt this way.”
ASK what more you can do to help. It is critical for survivors to regain their sense of control and agency. Taking action can be a difficult step. Instead, support their decisions and ask what they need.
It is also important not to pressure a survivor into leaving if they are not ready, and it’s especially vital to tread carefully around suspected abusers. The safety of the survivors comes first and foremost. Ask what it is they need, rather than force or pressure them to take action.
KNOW where to point someone for help. Encourage them to reach out to national hotlines for help and guidance. You can even sit with them while they call a 24-hour hotline. Offer options and services for them to reach out to, but leave them the space to decide where to go. Here are some local resources:
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
SafeHouse Denver: 303-318-9989
National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-422-4453
Colorado Spirit Resource Line: 720-731-4689
Jefferson Center 24/7 Crisis line: 1-844-493-8255
Lastly, it is important to take care of yourself. It is common to feel helpless, angry, guilty, or sad when supporting a survivor. The Colorado Spirit team is here to help you and provide support around the feelings that life during the pandemic may bring up. We offer free and confidential support services. You can reach us Monday-Friday, 9 am-5 pm, at 720-731-4689.
If you or someone you know is in a crisis please call our hotline at 844-493-8255 or visit Jefferson Center’s 24/7 crisis walk-in center at 4643 Wadsworth Blvd, Wheat Ridge, CO 80033.