243 million women and girls typically experience intimate partner violence in a single year, but the U.S. has seen a growing number of domestic violence cases since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, calls to helplines increased as much as five times amid the pandemic.
Domestic violence has spiked throughout the U.S. For example, Portland, Oregon saw a 22% increase in domestic violence arrests while domestic violence calls increased by 27% in Jefferson County, Alabama since 2020. More people have also downloaded spyware as at least 7% of Americans report having been the victim of cyberstalking. However, of those arrested for misdemeanor stalking, only 24% were convicted while 76% were not.
For marginalized groups, rates of abuse have increased by 50% or more. These same groups were also affected in other ways by the pandemic, including higher likelihood of infection and higher unemployment.
What exactly caused the rise in abuse? Increased stressors such as concerns about security and health, unemployment and financial worries, and cramped living conditions amid lockdown are some of the contributing factors. Others include increased opportunities for isolation at home with abusers, restricted movement due to lockdown, and deserted public spaces. Fewer safeguards like less interactions between mandated reporters and families, inconsistent reporting procedures amid the pandemic, and the shift to telemedicine reducing access to safe screening have also led to the uptick in abuse.
Typically only 34% of people injured by an intimate partner receive medical care while 66% receive no medical care for their injuries. What’s more, nearly half of domestic violence incidents go unreported. Why exactly is domestic violence not being reported?
One of the big reasons is social pressure; many victims feel too embarrassed to report. People can feel pressured by family or friends to remain silent or live in smaller communities that lack privacy. Others might even fear they won’t be believed by others.
Knowing the Signs of Abuse
Another reason for domestic violence going unreported is the psychological effects of abuse, which can also make it harder to leave. A “make-up” period strengthens the relationship, making victims believe the abuse will end. Abuse can also isolate victims from friends and family. Prolonged abuse can even reduce people’s confidence and self esteem.
Strong dependence on the partner can also make it harder to leave an abusive relationship, especially if the other person provides financial support to pay bills and necessities. The loss of immigration status or deportation can definitely motivate someone to endure the abuse as well as the possibility of losing custody of their children.
Abusers sometimes use pets to control victims. 71% of women in domestic violence shelters had their abuser threaten, injure, or kill a pet as a means of control. Nearly half of victims actually stay in abusive situations rather than leave their pet. 52% of survivors in shelters had to leave their pet with their abuser while 25% of victims returned to their abuser because of their pets.
How to Stop Domestic Violence
Fortunately, there are ways you can help stop domestic violence. One is to learn how to spot early warning signs as domestic violence often doesn’t happen immediately. These could be jealousy arising from time spent with friends or away from your partner, threatening violence against you or the ones you love, and intentionally damaging your property among other signs.
In most cases of domestic violence, a friend or family member is aware of the abuse. 19% of people know a friend or family member who has been the victim of domestic violence while 17% know someone who has subjected another person to some form of domestic violence. If you suspect someone to be in immediate danger, call the police. It is also a good idea to make sure to document every incident of domestic violence you witness.
If someone confides in you for help, listen without judgment, ask how you can help, and check in regularly with the person. If someone you know is thinking about leaving, keep your phone with you and have gas in your car as well as establish a meeting place or escape plan in advance. You can also support local organizations by helping to raise awareness in your community, making donations to local shelters and organizations, and refusing to support content that glorifies violence.
It is important to know your local services as someone experiencing violence may not be able to research shelters and services. As fewer than one in 10 people who are victims of violence actually contact a victim service provider for support, you can provide aid by finding organizations, local hotlines, and shelters that are ready to help.