Family and Intimate Partner Violence During COVID-19: Finding Help and Planning for Safety

People across the country and around the world are being asked to stay home to protect themselves, their family and others from COVID-19. However, in our medically justifiable attempt to protect people, we are also creating unintended consequences for some of our most vulnerable. In many cases, women, children and senior citizens may find themselves trapped in their homes with their abusers, isolated from the people and the resources that could help them.

Under normal circumstances, family violence is significantly damaging and affects millions of Americans every year. Data from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence shows more than 10 million people are victims of domestic violence annually. Early indications are that the measures we are taking as a society to protect ourselves from the COVID-19 are also placing millions at risk. Deputy Executive Director Anita Bhatia of the United Nations – Women said “while we absolutely support the need to follow these measures of social distancing and isolation, we also recognize that it provides an opportunity for abusers to unleash more violence.” Indeed, early data from China shows that reports of domestic violence increased 300% this February versus February 2019.

If you, a family member or someone you know may be at risk for domestic violence, here are some tips that may be useful.

Safety Planning

Safety planning can be a helpful tool to increase your safety and assess the danger of your situation. You can safety plan while you’re in an abusive relationship, when you’re planning on leaving and after you’ve left. 

During the Relationship:

Having a safety plan in place can help you increase your day to day safety and prepare for an emergency . 

  • Think of your home and identify the safest areas to be in. If an argument or incident of abuse occurs, try to move to a safe area. 
  • Avoid areas of your home that may pose additional risk. Avoid rooms with only one exit, rooms where weapons are stored or rooms that post other risks such as falling on hard surfaces in the bathroom.
  • During an incident of abuse, avoid moving to where children are to keep the abuse away from them.
  • If possible, keep a phone with you or close by. Keep important contact numbers you may need in the event you have to leave suddenly or call for help.
  • If incidents of physical abuse occur, protect your head and make yourself as small a target as possible.
  • In the event you need to escape quickly, consider these tips: Back your car into the drive to make leaving quicker, have emergency money available somewhere safe and plan somewhere safe you can stay for 24 hours to regroup like a fire station, a 24 hour grocery store or the home of a friend or family member.
  • Use code words if you need to signal to family or friends that you need help. Clearly define what the code word means. It could mean for others to leave, call the police or to call you to interrupt the abuse.

Leaving the Relationship:

Leaving an abusive relationship is an extremely dangerous time and violence can often escalate.

  • When planning to leave, do not notify the abuser that you intend to leave or want to leave. He or she may escalate violence to prevent you from leaving.
  • Gather important paperwork and documents to take with you, such as driver’s license or ID, marriage license, social security cards and banking and financial information.
  • Identify and set up a safe place to go (a friend or family member’s home, a domestic violence shelter, etc.).
  • Set aside personal items such as medications, important contact information, clothes for yourself and children and valuables.
  • Reach out to resources that may help you prepare for leaving, like domestic violence programs, legal resources, etc.
  • Change contact information to prevent the abuser from being able to contact you.
  • Examine your routine and make changes to prevent someone from being able to predict where you’re going to be at certain times.

These tips are a starting place when you think of safety planning. Other resources include: 

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1(800)799-7233
  • National Dating Abuse Helpline: 1(866)331-9474
  • Information on seeking assistance, legal resources and utility waivers from Texas Council on Family Violence
  • If it is safe for you to download, use the Personal Safety Plan document linked here. 

Our compassionate clinicians here at The Lovett Center are also specially trained to help individuals and families to heal from the effects of family violence. Tap here to fill out our confidential contact form.

About the author:
Tad Bodeman is a Licensed Master Social Worker and fellow at The Lovett Center with a clinical focus on serving both couples and individuals struggling with trauma and troubles of the heart, easing human sadness while fostering joy and peace and deepening communication skills

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