The global pandemic COVID-19 has caused disruption in normal routines.
To limit the spread of the disease, many businesses have changed their operating procedures or temporarily closed. Schools have switched to online classes. Many people either have lost their jobs – temporarily or permanently – or are working from home because of the crisis.
People are spending more time at home than usual during the pandemic, and that can be a dangerous place for many Americans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that millions of Americans suffer from intimate partner violence each year. That includes physical violence, sexual violence, stalking, and psychological aggression.
COVID-19 might put domestic violence victims in an even more dangerous situation.
“This is potentially a risky time for an increase in domestic violence,” says Robert Hudak, MD, associate professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “We all need to be aware of that.”
Even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, domestic violence victims can take steps to get out of dangerous situations.
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Could COVID-19 Lead to Increased Domestic Violence?
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, about 20 Americans per minute suffer physical violence from an intimate partner. About 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some level of physical violence from a partner.
Children also are at risk. According to the National Children’s Alliance, about 700,000 children in the U.S. each year suffer from abuse.
Potential triggers for domestic violence include financial strain and isolation. Because of COVID-19, more families are isolated within their homes, and many people are out of work or suffering financial strain. That could make it a dangerous time.
Domestic violence reports have surged in several different countries since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The United Nations urged governments to make responding to the rise in domestic violence a priority.
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How Can Domestic Violence Victims Get Help During COVID-19?
Many cases of domestic violence go unreported. The COVID-19 pandemic might exacerbate that problem, Dr. Hudak says.
Shelters or other resources for domestic violence victims may be closed or limited because of COVID-19. Victims also may not want to go to a shelter because they fear living in a confined space with many others could lead to COVID-19 infection.
“It is difficult for so many people to seek help for domestic violence issues,” Dr. Hudak says. “There are all kinds of worries and concerns that someone has when they reach out for help about this.”
Because of those worries, Dr. Hudak says it’s even more important for mental health and other care providers to ask patients about domestic violence.
“Patients are a lot more likely to talk about it if you ask about it, as opposed to spontaneously bringing it up,” Dr. Hudak says.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline recommends victims create a safety plan to protect themselves and practice self-care.
Also, domestic violence victims should know that many resources are out there, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you are a victim of domestic violence, here are some of the resources you can seek out:
- 911: If you are in immediate danger, call 911.
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline: Call the 24-hour hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), text LOVEIS to 22522, or visit thehotline.org.
- Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh: Call the 24-hour hotline at 412-687-8005 or visit wcspittsburgh.org.
- Center for Victims: Call the 24-hour crisis hotline at 1-866-644-2882 or visit centerforvictims.org.
If you’re looking for a help center close to your home, visit the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s website.
UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is a nationally recognized leader in mental health clinical care, research, and education. It is one of the nation’s foremost university-based psychiatric care facilities through its integration with the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. UPMC Western Psychiatric is the hub of UPMC Western Behavioral Health, a network of nearly 60 community-based programs providing specialized mental health and addiction care for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors throughout western Pennsylvania.