In the midst of our current pandemic, I feel encouraged by messages in the community and on social media to “Stay Safe at Home.” We are told to lock down, avoid others, work from home and self-isolate as much as possible. I hope that for many of you, when you imagine being home, you think of a place where you draw comfort and are surrounded by those who love and support you.
However, as a social worker who has supported hundreds of women facing domestic violence, I am reminded that not everyone is at home, safe. For women living with abusive partners, it’s often a place of fear. They are not “safe at home,” they are “trapped at home.” In fact, for too many women, that’s the most dangerous place for them to be.
At this time, most couples will be spending more time together, which will likely lead to more arguments. Additional stress from job losses, financial hardship and uncertain futures, combined with a person who chooses to use violence when things don’t go their way, will likely result in increased domestic violence.
During this pandemic, China saw their domestic violence incidents rise, tripling in one county (“China’s Divorce Spike Is a Warning to Rest of Locked-Down World,” March 31, by Sheridan Prasso in Bloomberg Businessweek).
Naturally, stressful life events often correlate with major depression. Some studies have shown that hostility and aggression during depression can lead to homicidal behaviour. With women being killed by their past/present intimate partners every six days in Canada, my hope is that this rate does not increase, with abused women being another indirect casualty of this virus.
The use of emotional abuse is likely to rise with people who act abusively, because making their partners feel terrible somehow makes them feel better. I question how abusive men will now use their control and manipulation tactics. Normally, they might tell their partner where they are “permitted” to go or when. They might direct who they are allowed to speak with, requiring passwords to social media accounts, and regularly monitoring their phone calls and text messages. Other times, they use guilt and harassment to exercise control.
As one article (“The Danger of Being Quarantined with an Abuser,” March 19) by Amanda Kippert on domesticshelters.org discusses, abusers may take advantage of the restrictions of this pandemic and use the fear of the virus to further control and manipulate. Isolation is a powerful tactic by many who abuse, which means they try to limit resources and access to support to their partner as much as possible. COVID-19 just handed them an amplified version of this, on a golden platter.
Women experiencing abuse may have been able to go to work, where they might have gotten some peace and freedom. Some may have had access to friends and family, confiding in them and getting the support they needed. If they were in crisis, they may have had more opportunity to reach out.
Now, it is more likely they are under 24/7 surveillance, and these women will need to exercise further caution when reaching for support.
You might be one of those supports. Someone in your life could be experiencing domestic violence and you may not know it. Connect with your family and friends when you can, so that hopefully, if someone really needs it, you can help them be safe, too. Also, remember that locally, Bryony House continues to provide emergency support to women experiencing domestic violence.
In closing, please continue with your positive messages of “Stay Home Safe.” However, let’s not assume that’s true for everyone.
(Note: While I do recognize that domestic violence can be perpetrated by women against men and in same-sex relationships, I have focused on my experience with heterosexual women.)