In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Utahns are being told that home is the safest place to be. However, for those who experience domestic violence, home is far from safe.
Last week, the Salt Lake City Police Department reported a 33% increase in domestic violence calls. We are not surprised and know that there are many more people who are not reaching out.
Leaving an abusive home is difficult. It’s complex and in times of high stress, such as what we are experiencing now, rates of violence increase. Coupled with the Stay Home, Stay Safe measures, factors that contribute to domestic violence are exacerbated.
First, perpetrators of domestic violence use isolation as a primary tactic for exercising control over their partners. Right now, physical isolation is at an all-time high — necessary, but also making it much easier for a perpetrator to control a partner. Not only are people physically isolated but typical outlets for social connection have changed. For those who are isolated in an abusive home, it can feel unsafe to share if they are OK or if there is an escalating problem.
Second, it is difficult — and potentially dangerous to health — to just leave home right now. Where would you even go? When we are told to stay home but that home isn’t safe, how do we manage conflicting messages? Many shelters, hotels and residence halls are limiting residents to adhere to physical distancing guidelines. Temporarily relocating to a loved one’s home may not be possible, especially when we are being told to limit interaction.
Finally, financial instability is on everyone’s mind — but for those who experience domestic violence, it is overwhelming. Perpetrators of domestic violence often use financial means to control their partners, and with such high rates of unemployment, survivors may be financially unable to leave. In addition, the added stress of unemployment or reduced income can escalate violence.
It feels dire, but there is hope and support is available. If you believe someone you know may be hurting their partner physically, verbally or emotionally, encourage that person to seek appropriate professional help about how to stop causing harm. If you are feeling on edge and think you might be about to harm someone, we encourage you to do the same. Know that help is available. It is possible to change and address how power and control is causing harm to people in your life.
Check on the people in your lives now, more than ever. If someone you know is in danger, ask them how you can support them. Remember to:
- Validate. Listen compassionately and nonjudgmentally. Sharing is incredibly brave. Honor that. Even well-intended statements can lead to self-blame and embarrassment for “not seeing it earlier.”
- Avoid telling them what to do. Domestic violence is an issue of power and those who experience violence feel powerless. Telling someone what they should do only perpetuates feelings of powerlessness and can frankly, be dangerous. The most dangerous time for someone who experiences domestic violence is the moment they leave; if proper safety planning hasn’t been implemented, it is putting them at severe risk of harm or death.
- If safe to do, suggest exchanging a code word. Some may feel comfortable exchanging a code word with trusted friends that can be used to as an alert that a safety intervention may be needed.
- Be informed. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition is offering several online workshops about domestic violence, as is the University of Utah’s Center for Student Wellness. Participate. Educate yourself on the signs of domestic violence and other types of violence and ways to interrupt it.
- If you are experiencing domestic violence, there is 24/7 help, including UDVC’s LINKLine, 1-800-897-LINK (5465).
Chris Linder is a special assistant on interpersonal violence for University of Utah President Ruth Watkins and an assistant professor of higher education in the College of Education.
Brittany Badger is the director of the U.’s Center for Student Wellness, which includes the university’s victim-survivor advocacy program.