Terry McAteer: This quarantine’s other victim: a surge in domestic violence
Here’s the latest toxic quarantine cocktail recipe: combine a 243% increase in nationwide online alcohol sales with a lockdown of women and children already involved in abusive relationships with their spouse and you get staggering domestic violence issues.
With 40 million newly unemployed Americans facing huge financial stress and having to be locked into tight living quarters, the mental health stress has created the perfect storm for domestic violence. Consider these factors:
Many domestic violence phone hotlines have been shutdown due to the virus, leaving many abuse victims no outlet to air their fears.
Most domestic violence women’s shelters have not been able to allow new clients the ability to seek shelter because of virus restrictions.
Phone calls to violence hotlines that are open are actually down in Los Angeles and New York due to the fact that women can’t call for help as they are confined with their abuser. Those that did call, hotlines reported a huge increase in frantic and shorter calls; many calls grew eerily silent as trapped victims had to hang up.
Many domestic violence prevention organizations are unable to serve new or existing clients with court orders, counseling services or referrals due to virus restrictions.
Children are now being forced to witness the abusive relationships which before have occurred when children are at school or away from the home. The detrimental effects of this quarantine to children in abusive homes are having devastating effects.
A 2017 study by Oxford University found that a 1% increase in U.S. unemployment created a 25% increase in child neglect cases and a 12% increase in physical abuse.
If these statistics hold true, imagine the unbelievable affect this quarantine has had on women and children, as unemployment numbers have risen from 4% to double digits nationwide.
Even in places where statistics seem to suggest that domestic violence cases are falling (in Los Angeles, for example, the police say reported cases are 18% lower than a year ago be-tween March 19 and April 15), this is sparking concern, not relief.
Police fear that many victims feel too scared to even file a report or are unable to find a safe way to do so.
“We’re having 10 fewer crime reports each day for instances of domestic violence,” the Los Angeles police department spokesperson Michel Moore told local television. “That’s going in the wrong direction with what we believe is actually happening behind closed doors.”
In homes that are already prone to abuse, the virus lockdown has created a living nightmare. This is partly because of the all-too-obvious reason that it is hard to run away. But it is also due to a more subtle problem: the mental cage.
Abusers typically control their victims not just through physical violence but by making them think that abuse is justified, if not inevitable. Oftentimes, abusers deliberately isolate victims from others, controlling their communications; other times they use emotional abuse to make the victim feel ashamed.
You and I have a role to play. Please reach out to your friends or family and have meaningful conversations that explore life during this age of quarantine. Social distancing doesn’t mean you can’t have private phone and in-person conversations. More than ever these conversations need to exist or we will just allow domestic violence to flourish.
Terry McAteer is a member of The Union Editorial Board. His views are his own and do not represent the views of The Union or its editorial board members. Contact him at email@example.com.
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