CW: Discussion of abuse and violence
Writer: Rachel Stein
Graphic Designer: Serena Lu
It has been nearly one year since BOLT Safety Society’s Safe Hubs initiative was launched on August 31, 2020. We have partnered with businesses to be listed as safe and supportive spaces for survivors, called 'Safe Hubs.' However, much work still needs to be done at the community level to ensure the safety of survivors, and to all together prevent future instances of abuse.
These are our Safe Hubs mascots Lyght and Nyng. These two friends will be with you throughout your journey as you read the articles we’ve written for you! Lyght’s here to comfort you if you’ve gone through emotional or mental abuse, and Nyng’s got your back if you survived any other form of abuse.
Through these friends, our team at BOLT Safety, your community, and Safe Buddies, are here for you.
Of the many negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, an increase in domestic violence is one of the most alarming. This shadow crisis has been spurred by many of the other consequences of the pandemic, such as economic stress, increased anxieties, and reduced access to support systems. Further, as a result of the social distancing measures implemented worldwide in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19, many people are forced to stay confined to their abusive and unsafe households, resulting in increased contact with abusers as well as decreased connections with their support networks of friends, family, or community (Usher et al., 2020). Although social distancing is effective at slowing infection rates, it can create significant social, economic, and psychological hardship, which can be the impetus for domestic violence. Although these may be factors that lead to domestic violence, they should never be accepted as reasons or excuses to condone violence, but rather serve as a means of taking the appropriate intervention to prevent violence.
Both reports of domestic abuse and demand for domestic violence crisis response services have increased across the globe since the beginning of the pandemic. In Australia, as lockdown orders were implemented, Google reported a 75 percent increase in searches relating to abuse support (Poate, 2020). China, the first country to impose lockdown orders, saw a three-fold increase in reported domestic abuse cases in Feb. 2020 compared to the previous year (Allen‐Ebrahimian, 2020). Meanwhile, France (Berton, 2020) and the U.S. (Wagers, 2020) saw domestic abuse reports jump by 32 - 36 percent and 21 - 35 percent, respectively.
Unemployment rates all over the world have rapidly increased into the double digits, with millions signing up for welfare and a predicted global recession in the near future (Kennedy, 2020). Economic independence is a crucial component in preventing domestic abuse. For many who experience such abuse, the “financial entanglement” with their abuser is too complicated to severe without an alternate source of income. The pandemic has intensified such financial disparities due to job loss and unemployment, more prevalently seen amongst women of colour, immigrants, and those without college educations (Evans et al., 2020). The necessary social distancing regulations and the resulting shortages of essential resources as well as the economic consequences of these regulations have put people all over the world under a significantly greater amount of stress. Isolation, when combined with the psychological and financial stress characteristic of the pandemic, as well as increases in harmful coping mechanisms, such as substance abuse, can consolidate in a “perfect storm” to provoke an unparalleled rise of domestic abuse (Usher et al., 2020).
Substance abuse, economic burden, and isolation are common risk factors for domestic abuse, and this highlights the need for breaking barriers to accessing support services and networks. That is, isolation creates less opportunities for people experiencing domestic abuse to seek help, and makes hiding abuse easier as the physical or emotional signs of violence are less visible to others. The lockdown measures enacted to slow the spread of the virus have also restricted access to alternate sources of housing, with many shelters and hotels reducing capacity or shutting down and travel restrictions limiting access to safe havens (Evans et al., 2020). Further, reports indicate that COVID-19 is being used as a “coercive control mechanism” in which abusers exert further control in a toxic relationship, especially the use of containment, fear, and threat of infection as means of abuse. Other studies demonstrate how abusers use misinformation related to the degree of isolation measures and other aspects of the pandemic to control their partner. Consequently, for example, there have been reports that show how those experiencing domestic abuse might be afraid to go to the hospital out of fear of contracting the virus (Fielding, 2020).
This pandemic has emphasized important facts within our society: for some, there is no “shelter” of safety at home, thus “sheltering in place” hits those vulnerable to domestic abuse especially hard. Quarantine measures, intended to protect the public and prevent the spread of COVID-19, left many people in abusive relationships trapped with their abusers. This highlights how sheltering in place does not create safe and equal consequences for all people. Though these restrictions are increasingly being lifted and/or reduced in parts of the world, the pandemic and its effects, such as domestic abuse, rage on. This issue of abuse can’t be confronted without also confronting social factors. Our communities need to prioritize safety for victims and survivors of abuse through an equitable mindset, not in spite of, but rather because of the issues exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
If you or someone you know has experienced domestic abuse, call or text 1-800-563-0808 or email VictimLinkBC@bc211.ca any time, seven days a week for free, confidential help. BOLT Safety’s platform also has a ‘Safe Hubs’ category, which contains information on available support services, such as women’s shelters, guidelines on what to do in certain situations, as well as lists options for medical and legal help.
These are the sources we’ve used for our article, and you may find them good for further reading on the discussed topics!
Usher et al., 2020: Family violence and COVID‐19: Increased vulnerability and reduced options for support
Evans et al., 2020: A Pandemic within a Pandemic — Intimate Partner Violence during Covid-19
Fielding, 2020: In quarantine with an abuser: surge in domestic violence reports linked to coronavirus
Kennedy, 2020: Jobs destroyed worldwide as coronavirus triggers deep recession
Poate, 2020: 75% INCREASE IN DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SEARCHES SINCE CORONAVIRUS
Allen-Ebrahimian, 2020: China's domestic violence epidemic
Berton, 2020: France to put domestic abuse victims in hotels after jump in numbers
Wagers, 2020: Domestic violence growing in wake of coronavirus outbreak
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