Covid-19 has trapped many in abusive homes; Here are ways you can help, wherever you are
As the Covid-19 pandemic spread and I hastily packed up my college dorm room to leave, one among the exodus of students given five days to uproot their lives, I was lucky enough to be returning to a safe home. For people whose homes can be more dangerous than the outdoors, the pandemic has meant living in fear both inside and outside. Stay-at-home orders in the United States are effectively helping to “flatten the curve” of Covid-19 cases, but have led to an increase in the frequency and intensity of domestic violence. Before the pandemic, survivors could limit their time in abusive homes by going to work or school. Now, the threat of Covid-19 and stay-at-home orders have stolen these opportunities for relief from domestic violence survivors, cornering them inside the home with abusive people. Recognizing that this silent pandemic needs to be stopped, I joined the Covid-19 Task Force on Domestic Violence with others who want to support survivors during the pandemic.
We urge Congress to include funding for housing and resources for domestic violence survivors in the next stimulus bill, as outlined in recommendations from the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence. This support must meet the needs of all survivors of domestic violence, including Native survivors, LGBTQ+ survivors and immigrant survivors. Simply, the $484 billion stimulus deal that Congress passed April 24 does not do enough for domestic violence survivors.
They must be prioritized in the next stimulus bill because the pandemic has uniquely eliminated their former support systems. Children, whose teachers could intervene if they noticed domestic violence warning signs, must now remain in the house with abusive guardians. Other people experiencing or recovering from domestic violence can no longer receive urgent in-person counseling. Many domestic violence programs have transitioned to providing their services remotely, but many survivors cannot call domestic violence hotlines because abusers will overhear their conversations. Texting and chat rooms are also inaccessible for people whose electronic devices are monitored by abusers. This silencing is appearing in the numbers; the National Domestic Violence Hotline has seen a decline in daily calls to 1,700 from as many as 2,000.
Covid-19 has also made it more difficult for survivors to escape abusive homes. Time magazine documented that one woman’s partner refused to let her leave the house because he said that she would expose him to Covid-19. Other abusers have used the pandemic as an excuse for abuse; one man made a woman wash her hands until they bled. Some survivors fear that if they go to a hospital or shelter, they might expose themselves to Covid-19. Before the pandemic, it could take seven attempts for a survivor to leave an abusive relationship. The pandemic has only raised the barriers to escape.
You can fight for the safety and well-being of domestic violence survivors by reaching out to our representatives. Contact U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren by filling out this online email form or calling her Boston office at (617) 565-3170, her Springfield office at (413) 788-2690 or her Washington, D.C., office at (202) 224-4543. Contact U.S. Sen. Ed Markey by filling out this online email form or calling his Boston office at (617) 565-8519, his Fall River office at (508) 677-0523, his Springfield office at (413) 785-4610 or his Washington, D.C., office at (202) 224-2742. You can also contact U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley at this link or by calling her Washington, D.C., office at (202) 225-511 or her Dorchester office at (617) 850-0040; or you can contact U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark by filling out this online email form or calling her Framingham office at (508) 319-9757, her Malden office at (617) 354-0292 or her Washington, D.C., office at (202) 225-2836. Explain how Covid-19 creates additional burdens for survivors of domestic violence. Ask them to incorporate the NTF’s recommendations into the next stimulus bill. Urge them to support survivors by increasing funding for the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act and the Violence Against Women Act, waiving matching requirements for the Victims of Crime Act, increasing deposits into the Crime Victims Fund and providing paid safe leave for survivors.
You can also be an ally in your daily life. Donate or volunteer for your local domestic violence shelter. Learn the signs of domestic violence and watch for them when you are in public. Reach out to people you haven’t heard from recently or whom you may be especially worried about during this time. Don’t explicitly ask if someone is experiencing domestic violence, because abusers may be monitoring people’s phones. If someone mentions it, you can give them the National Domestic Violence Hotline number (1-800-799-SAFE) or Web address for chat services (thehotline.org) or tell them to text LOVEIS to 22522. If they cannot seek these resources themselves because an abuser may find out, offer to call on their behalf. Domestic violence survivors can only shelter in place safely if they can keep a distance from both the virus and abusers.
Mercedes Sapuppo, Harvard College Class of 2022