Domestic violence, child abuse cases could see a spike in US amid coronavirus lockdown, warn experts
As the pandemic continues unabated, authorities say staying at home is the best option to prevent contracting the virus. But home is not always the safest place for many
The novel coronavirus pandemic has gripped almost every country in every continent except the frozen Antarctica. Several major cities across the globe are in lockdown to prevent the further spread of the deadly virus forcing the residents to stay at home.
The US is also fighting the pandemic with the authorities repeatedly giving the same message to the citizens — the safest place for them is home as the infection spreads. However, home is not the safest place for all and for many, it is actually a dangerous trap during the lockdown.
For people who are victims of domestic violence, mandatory lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19 can prove to be disastrous, warn experts. The shutdown has left them with no option but to stay indoors trapping them along with their abusers and isolating them from the people and resources that could help them.
Each year, over 10 million Americans experience domestic violence, and experts fear that the isolation owing to the ongoing pandemic could drive those numbers even higher.
In the US, more than 180,000 positive cases of coronavirus have been reported as of April 1 morning and the National Domestic Violence Hotline has claimed that calls from domestic abuse victims have increased.
CNN affiliate WLNY has reported that in New York's Nassau County, domestic violence cases are already up 10 percent compared to this time last year. While CNN affiliate WCPO has stated that Cincinnati-based organization Women Helping Women is receiving 30 percent more calls now after the commencement of self-isolation.
Several reports also claim that abusers are using COVID-19 to further isolate the victims from their friends and family. Some of the abusers are also threatening “to throw their victims out on the street so that they get sick”. “We’ve heard of some withholding financial resources or medical assistance,” Katie Ray-Jones, the CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline told TIME.
Not just domestic violence cases, but experts also fear that school closures amid the self-isolation will increase child abuse cases too.
According to an NBC report, the lockdown has led to a drop in the number of child abuse cases reported to several state hotlines. However, it adds that the fewer numbers have left experts worrying. According to experts, the rules intended to halt the spread of coronavirus may be making conditions worse for victims of child abuse trapped at home with their parents. The report adds that in California, the child protection hotline of Los Angeles County Department of Child and Family Services normally receives an average of slightly over 4,000 calls a week, but in mid-March, it received only 2,661 calls.
Speaking about this worrying scenario, CarolAnn Peterson, Ph.D., Full-time Lecturer, Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, told MEA WorldWide (MEAWW), “The reason is that both the victim and children are now with the abuser 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. They don't have the ability to call for help or even get a respite from the abuse."
“When children go to school and the abuser goes to work, both the victim and children get some relief from the tension and stress of the abuser's presence. This is also true if the victim works. In terms of mitigation, many victims have learned how to maneuver their way around to lessen the violence. However, that doesn't mean this always works.”
Peterson continued, “Adult victims can call the Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE. However, they should immediately call another number in case the abuser checks the 'last number dialed’. This will help cover their tracks. And of course, the number is toll and won't show on the telephone bill.”
“Hopefully, there is a trusted friend, neighbor, a colleague (if they work), or family member. They should use outreach services of domestic violence shelters. However, many shelters are full at this time,” Peterson added while suggesting the situation may only worsen.
Another expert, Minna Castillo Cohen, director of the Colorado Office of Children, Youth and Families, said, “We are concerned about this significant drop in calls, particularly because children and youth who may be experiencing abuse and neglect are now home all day and are isolated.”
Experts also fear that as the lockdown extends and the economy worsens due to the deadly virus, the divorce rate will also rise in the US.
Shane G Owens, Ph.D., ABPP, Assistant Director, Campus Mental Health Services, Farmingdale State College, told MEAWW, “There is already evidence to suggest that domestic violence has increased and divorce lawyers in New York are experiencing an increased number of calls expressing interest in their services.”
Owens, however, suggested, “In the case of divorces, people should be reminded that it's a bad idea to make important decisions when under great stress.”
Whereas Peterson said, “It's possible that the divorce rate will rise, mainly for the average family, due to economic issues. Many a time, economic stress on a family can create such tension and that the chasm created may never be bridged and divorce will follow. This does not mean the victims of abuse will file for divorce. The economic downturn may make the victim more reliant on the abuser.”