How Domestic Violence Victims Can Stay Safe During the Pandemic

Sad Young Woman Sitting and Looking Down

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Information presented in this article may be triggering to some people who have experienced trauma due to domestic abuse.

Key Takeaways

  • Stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders can be life-threatening for victims of domestic violence.
  • Studies show that abusers are more likely to murder their partners during times of personal crisis.
  • Creating a safety plan, memorizing emergency telephone numbers, and keeping important documents close at hand are just a few ways you can increase your safety.

During the coronavirus pandemic, staying home, avoiding public spaces, and working remotely are all important steps required to reduce the spread of the virus. But for many people who live with someone who is abusive, this may not be the safest option.

In fact, stay-at-home orders and shelter-in-place options have become life-threatening for many people; women and children in particular. Their physical and mental health is being compromised every day in the very place where they should feel safest—their homes.

National Domestic Abuse Hotline

If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, call: 1-800-799-7233.

If you suspect that your life is in danger, call 911 immediately.

An Increase in Violence

There has been a huge surge in domestic violence cases worldwide. The United Nations reports that nearly every country is showing an increase. For instance, in Malaysia, calls have doubled, and in France, they are up 32%. The concern is that the number of cases could be much greater due to the number of incidents that go unreported.

Financial Stress

It's not surprising that domestic violence is growing given the fact that stress, fear, and financial strain often lead to domestic abuse.

A 2016 study of intimate partner violence during the Great Recession concluded that "economic upheaval continues to have a disruptive effect on male-female relationships."

The researchers added that the Great Recession "led to an increase in men's controlling behavior toward their wives and romantic partners."

Instances of domestic violence are, of course, not always perpetrated by men. However, this tends to be the case in the majority of reported circumstances.

What's more, financial abuse is already common in domestic violence situations. One study found that almost all survivors had a partner who controlled their use of or access to economic resources or took advantage of them economically.

Studies also show that abusers are more likely to murder their partners during times of crisis. Consequently, the coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating an already volatile situation.

Adverse Effects on Children

Children also are being impacted more than in the past. With schools, community centers, and public playgrounds shut down in many areas, there are no more safe refuges for kids.

Before the pandemic, these places served as safe spaces where children could escape the violence at home. Now, they're stuck at home and likely witnessing and experiencing more domestic abuse than in the past.

A Closer Look at the Problem

When victims of domestic abuse are forced to stay in their homes or in close proximity to someone who abuses them, the likelihood that they will experience additional abuse is significant. People who abuse others will use any tool to their advantage—including a national health crisis like COVID-19.

According to advocates at the National Domestic Violence Hotline, COVID-19 can impact intimate partner violence in a number of ways. Abusers may:

  • Withhold necessary items like hand soap, face masks, hand sanitizers, and disinfectants
  • Share misinformation about the coronavirus to scare or control their partners
  • Feel more justified in increasing their isolation tactics
  • Use COVID-19 as a scare tactic so that their partners will not visit family members
  • Prevent their partners from getting medical attention even if they have symptoms
  • Threaten to infect them with the virus if they have symptoms
  • Accuse their partner of trying to give them the virus, especially if their partner is an essential employee or healthcare worker
  • Prevent their partner from going to work—even if they are a healthcare worker
  • Withhold money, food, insurance cards, and more
  • Threaten to cancel health insurance or prevent them from getting medical care or prescriptions for existing conditions
  • Use alcohol and drugs as a way of coping with stress
  • Escalate abuse due to financial strain and emotional stress caused by the pandemic
  • Blame and ridicule their partner every time something goes wrong
  • Use COVID-19 as an excuse to keep their partners from seeing the kids if they're separated
  • Create strict and controlling rules about behavior at home, yet find fault even if rules are followed
  • Engage in additional emotional abuse and gaslighting behaviors

Tips for Staying Safe

During this pandemic, it's not uncommon to face even more fear and anxiety than you normally would—especially if you're torn between staying physically and emotionally safe and preventing the spread of a highly contagious disease.

While everyone's situation is different, here are a few suggestions for dealing with abusive situations. These tips may help make this uncertain time feel a little more manageable.

Create a Safety Plan

Safety plans are personalized plans that include ideas on how to stay safe while in a relationship with someone who is abusive. These plans often include steps to take when leaving and how to stay safe afterward.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers a guide on safety planning. But you may need to get creative with your plan during this pandemic.

Understand Options May Be Limited

Before the coronavirus pandemic, people in abusive situations often had the option to go to shelters or to stay with family or friends.

Unfortunately, options are now limited. Some shelters may be full or closed, and staying with a family member may no longer be an option.

Find out ahead of time which houses you might be able to escape to should you need to find a safe place to stay. Be sure to continue practicing good hygiene, washing your hands regularly, and avoiding touching your face no matter where you stay.

Keep Everything Together

Make sure you have all of your important documents handy and that you know the address to your nearest police station.

You also should have some money or a credit card on hand, as well as a bag with some clothes, medicines, and personal items. Keep your phone and keys nearby as well. You will need to grab these things quickly if you need to escape.

Stay in Touch With People

If at all possible, you should try to stay in touch with family and friends. Use text messaging, FaceTime, social media, email, or other online options to communicate when you can. It's important to build a support network of people who can encourage you and support you during this difficult time.

Be careful what you share, though, in case the person abusing you is monitoring your online activity or abusing you electronically.

Practice Self-Care

Getting through this pandemic while experiencing abuse can seem overwhelming, so taking care of your physical, emotional, and mental health is even more important.

Look for ways to care for yourself while staying safe. For instance, meditating, reciting mantras, journaling, and praying all are helpful ways of coping. Additionally, there are many online yoga and fitness classes that you can take for no charge.

Even getting a few moments of fresh air can do wonders for your mental health. Try to do something for yourself each day that eases your anxiety and fear.

Reach Out for Help

If you or a loved one are a victim of domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates.

You also can use their online chat option to chat privately with an advocate. These professionals can guide you in how to handle your situation or simply lend a supportive ear to listen.

What This Means For You

Experiencing abuse during a pandemic creates an excruciatingly difficult environment. But don't let your fear over the coronavirus keep you from staying safe. The important thing is that you protect yourself and your children—even if it means leaving your home.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. United Nations. UN backs global action to end violence against women and girls amid COVID-19 crisis.

  2. Schneider D, Harknett K, McLanahan S. Intimate partner violence in the great recession. Demography. 2016;53(2):471-505. doi:10.1007/s13524-016-0462-1

  3. Center for Financial Security, University of Wisconsin. Measuring the effects of domestic violence on women’s financial well-being.

  4. Adams AE, Sullivan CM, Bybee D, Greeson MR. Development of the scale of economic abuse. Violence Against Women. 2008;14(5):563-88. doi:10.1177/1077801208315529

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon is a published author and a bullying prevention expert.