A Global Rise of Domestic Violence: The Underreported Consequences of the COVID-19 Pandemic
By Layla Baradaran
The rise of domestic violence in times of emergency is often overlooked by larger society due to the lack of media coverage. The COVID-19 global pandemic continues to uproot all sense of normalcy as it has now surpassed 100,000 deaths and counting in the United States alone as of May 2020. (Washington Post). However, many media outlets are failing to address the virus’s direct impact on the increase in domestic violence and child abuse during times of crisis and isolation.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that on average “1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men in the United States have experienced violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime” (Abramson). The pandemic’s Stay-at-Home Order only increases those statistics. Many forget that the government-mandated order put in place to flatten the curve has a direct effect on the increase of risk victims of domestic violence face. Isolation can severely exacerbate abusive relationships due to being confined to a single space that limits victims from accessing external refuge and resources in which they rely on to provide safety during unprecedented times. It is also vital to recognize that a large contributing factor results from the rise of anxiety echoing non-essential job occupation unemployment. Amanda Taub refers to the public health crisis’ impact on domestic abuse in a New York Times article as an “opportunistic infection, flourishing in the conditions created by the pandemic” (1). Although this “infection” does not discriminate on the basis of race, the pandemic exposes the United States’ deep-rooted inequality of healthcare resources, especially in low-income communities.
To compare COVID-19’s repercussions to historical events, journalist Ashley Abramson found commonality in research conducted from Texas’ 2017 Hurricane Harvey catastrophe and the increased risk and impact on family violence. Abramson’s research found that “social factors that put people more at risk for violence are reduced access to resources, increased stress due to job loss or strained finances, and disconnection from social support systems” (1). It is these explicit examples of direct negative correlation that should be motivating each and every one of us to address such life threatening issues.
Natasha Lennard wrote an op-ed in The Intercept criticizing the media’s investigation and responses to the domestic violence surge arguing that the media is “missing the point” (1). The article calls out media outlets for failing to exercise their responsibility in motivating society to demand longer-term responses to the pandemic from the government, specifically addressing the United Kingdom’s Parliament as well as the United Nations. Lennard urges governments to provide “social and economic infrastructure and services so that women and children (Lennard clarifies earlier that the data shows that it is primarily women and children who are most at risk) are not dependent on the patriarchal household structure for survival. Safer spaces of cohabitation and community must be recognized and supported” (Lennard 1). However, on a more positive note, Mark Townsend provides an investigation on the UK’s provided accessible resources during COVID-19 in a Guardian article. Townsend states that Ruge, the UK’s largest domestic abuse charity, has reported a “700% increase in calls to its helpline in a single day, while a separate helpline for perpetrators of domestic abuse seeking help to change their behavior received 25% more calls after the start of the Covid-19 lockdown” (Townsend). Article headlines such as these create the narrative in which society both follows and relies on during times of crisis. Media outlet’s ability to distribute accessible information highlights the power, responsibility, and impact they have on how individuals find safety, solace as well as move forward.
It is crucial to recognize that just as the virus is global, so are the repercussions, often referred to as “Intimate Terrorism.” Taub shares the story of a 26-year-old woman in China who has been struggling with domestic abuse perpetrated by her husband for the last six years prior to the lockdown, has expressed a significant spike in abuse over the past few weeks. The woman provided the reporter photographs documenting her husband’s abuse with bruises covering her body and is still living in fear for both her and her 11-month-old daughter confined with her. However, often in close proximity confinement, many may not have the privacy to even reach out as they may be quarantined with their abusers. (1). The National Domestic Violence Hotline tries to combat such barriers by providing live chat services that are accessible straight from their website.
On a positive note, the awareness of domestic violence has infiltrated social media platforms reaching prominent circles that hold mass influence. Twitter campaigns hashtagged #YouAreNotAlone have recently perpetrated the social media space to bring awareness, support, and ally-ship to those most vulnerable. Paper Magazine released an article stating that Rihanna and Twitter and Square CEO, Jack Dorsey, recently announced a grant of $4.2 million for domestic violence survivors amid quarantine due to approximately 90 people a week being during away from domestic violence shelters due to capacity restricts ever since the Safer-At-Home order in March of 2020. (Song). The article outlines that the grant will go to the Mayor’s Fund of Los Angeles to “provide 10 weeks of support including shelter, meals, and counseling for individuals and their children suffering from domestic violence” (1). Headlines such as these provide positive media coverage that can further promote ally-ship and a hopeful beacon of hope for victims. Amanda Taub brings to light Secretary General of the United Nations António Gueterres’ tweet endorsing an urgent action to combat the global surge in domestic violence by “urging all governments to put women’s safety first as they respond to the pandemic.” Taub reveals that despite organizations struggling to provide resources, governments have not and still do not have protective measures in place to protect victims from their abusers (1).
We are left with the ongoing discussion of whose responsibility it is to protect victims from their abusers and who is to blame when there are not appropriate resources in place. Does the responsibility fall on our governments, NGOs founded on the mission of protecting victims, or ourselves? Is it our votes in electing government representatives to speak on our behalf and put orders into place to protect our most vulnerable? I urge all media outlets to take ownership of the responsibility they hold with great consequential thought. I urge governments to step up to the plate and give the virus’ fatal repercussions the attention and resources it deserves. It is also our individual job, as a united society, to hold our governments, reporters, and peers accountable. The portrayal of life-threatening matters such as domestic violence and the risks of underrepresentation or even misrepresentation can lead to catastrophe. The spike of emotional and physical abuse must be accurately reported on as well as provide immediate and reliable solutions for victims worldwide.
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Shepherd, Katie, and Antonia Farzan. “Live Updates: Death Toll Surpasses 100,000 as Experts Warn Coronavirus May Never Fully Go Away.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 28 May 2020.
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