As we pass the one-year mark of the extreme circumstances surrounding the COVID pandemic, many relationships are feeling the strain of prolonged isolation, in addition to mental health fissures that can (and are) lead to a marked uptick in domestic violence. It is difficult to say how big of a surge is happening because many choose not to report incidents to law enforcement—this too, because of COVID.
Before we are all vaccinated, or enough of us are to facilitate the “herd immunity” that permits the population to mingle again, many are holding tight to the “bubble” of acquaintances our local government has deemed appropriate to spend time with. This diminishing of points of contact, and therefore support, is one factor, but what if the entirety of the limited people you are in contact with are related in some way to your abuser? It can often take a LOT of prodding from loved ones and friends before a person, man, or woman, will come forward even to consider leaving an abusive situation. However, signs of abuse are often subtle and hard to notice through phone calls or web meetings. Consequently, if a person is not comfortable reaching out for support, they become even more isolated-many believing that there are no options for them other than to endure the ongoing abuse. After all, where can they go if they are not living in that “bubble”? Who can they turn to if their regular emotional support has become less available? Most health care professionals received training to spot domestic abuse signs—but victims aren’t seeing their doctors in person either!
According to data collected in surveys of nearly 400 adults for ten weeks beginning in April 2020, it has been suggested that more services and communication are needed so that even front-line health and food bank workers, for example — rather than only social workers, doctors, and therapists — can spot the signs and ask clients questions about potential intimate partner violence.
“The pandemic, like other kinds of disasters, exacerbates the social and livelihood stresses and circumstances that we know lead to intimate partner violence,” says Clare Cannon, assistant professor of social and environmental justice in the Department of Human Ecology and the lead author of the study. She explained that increased social isolation during COVID-19 had created an environment where victims and aggressors, or potential aggressors in a relationship, cannot easily separate themselves from each other. The extra stress also can cause mental health issues, increasing individuals’ perceived pressure and reactions to stress through violence and other means.
In California, awareness of domestic violence as a public health crisis is on the rise, as shown by a statewide study of 1918 adults conducted by the Blue Shield of California Foundation. In this study, “9 in 10 Californians feel domestic violence is a serious problem and two-thirds consider domestic violence to be a public issue that should be addressed by all of us.”
The benefit of studies like these is that we are given a more precise understanding of what solutions can be moving forward. According to Jacquie Marroquin, director of programs at California Partnership to End Domestic Violence, “One of the things we’ve been able to do in the field is intervention and prevention. Moving forward, we know we are looking at a new normal. And that means finding out what these services look like. All of these things serve to keep us all safer and in a better place.”
What we can glean from all the data is that the distribution of knowledge can alleviate many problems. In many cases, the thing that keeps victims quiet is not so much fear of their abusers, though that is a factor, but more the perception of being alone in their maltreatment with no way out.
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