As more lockdowns are ordered to slow the spread of COVID-19, the lives of people stuck in physically or emotionally abusive relationships have become harder, which has already been seen in the pandemic hotspots of China and Italy, the New York Times reports. The virus raises the stakes for domestic violence service as they scramble to adapt to a patchwork of new government policies and restrictions that shift day by day and vary from state to state. In the U.S., more than one in three women has experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner. In recent years, the number of domestic violence cases has spiked, making up more than half of all violent crimes in the U.S. in 2018.
Spending days, weeks or even months in the presence of an abusive partner takes an immense emotional toll, said Teresa Burns of the Casa de Esperanza shelter in St. Paul, Mn. Those are the conditions that the coronavirus lockdown has set up. Many of her clients are undocumented people whose immigration status can become a means of control by abusive partners. It common for abusers to claim that survivors will be deported if they seek help. She fears these types of threats will escalate during the coronavirus crisis, and with information about the government’s response changing nearly by the hour, survivors may not know who or what to believe. In New York, shelters are categorized as essential services and are encouraged to keep functioning as normally as possible, even though many are at or almost at capacity, said Kelli Owens of the state’s Prevention of Domestic Violence office.