Trigger Warning: mention of intimate partner violence, abuse, violence
Government officials, at both the federal and state levels, have requested that families “stay home, save lives” to slow the spread of COVID-19, and to protect themselves, and those around them. Back in March, Michigan Medicine displayed a graphic showing how we can flatten the curve (slow the spread of COVID-19): if communities work together to slow the spread of this virus, the number of cases will stretch out across a longer period of time, allowing hospital beds to accommodate more people. Staying home and practicing social distancing can be a way families across the U.S. can help slow the spread of COVID-19, but staying home is not the safest reality for everyone.
On April 2nd, The Rising Majority — a coalition of allied organizations and movements formed in 2017 — hosted a virtual teach-in with activists Angela Y. Davis and Naomi Klein to discuss movement building in the time of the coronavirus crisis. Angela Davis discussed the gendered violence of capitalism and how so many survivors of abuse are not able to retreat to a safe home during this pandemic: “This whole idea of ‘staying at home’ assumes we can retreat to a safe, nurturing environment, a refuge.”
After viewing this teach-in and thinking about this insight from Davis, I shifted my attention to what staying home may look like for survivors of abuse and violence in unprotected conditions:
Violence against women and children is a public health crisis and staying home to slow the spread of COVID-19 has many impacts on those who cannot go to safe homes.
The National Domestic Hotline reported 951 calls between March 10 and 24 that mentioned COVID-19; one caller from New York said her abuser threw her out the front door and kept their child after she woke up because she was not feeling well. Life-threatening situations like living in abusive households place inexplicable pain on survivors to take part in this worldwide retreat to homes.
In Grand Rapids, Mich. alone, domestic violence cases have spiked 48%, as reported by Kent County Prosecutor’s Office and some of the blame can be placed on the coronavirus; a prosecutor of Kent County voiced concerns of children facing abuse being unable to reach out to trusted adults for help like teachers due to remote learning.
Furthermore, there are many impacts on those who do not have safe homes and those who may be economically dependent on their abusers; financial uncertainty for some can prevent them from leaving home — even outside of this pandemic as cases have spiked during times of economic crisis. The CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, Katie Ray-Jones reported to TIME magazine that the calls they have received have ranged from “abusers threatening to throw survivors out on the streets so that (the survivors will) get sick” to “(withholding) financial and medical resources”.
Advocates are still providing resources for those experiencing violence and abuse. As reported by the director for the legal project at two justice centers for New York’s Sanctuary for Families — a shelter that provides legal and counseling services for women and their children — “though New York shelters are considered essential, many domestic violence service providers are not seeing as many clients because of the virus and are moving their services to online.” But hotlines are still open and some states like Philadelphia have set up online databases where individuals can request protection against their abusers.
Keep in mind that not everyone has the ability to go to a safe home nor remain there during this crisis – staying home is a privilege. To provide allyship to those you may know who are living in unsafe spaces, ask them how you can support them in this time and provide them with local resources in a safe manner, so that their livelihood is not compromised. Linked below is a website that provides resources for those experiencing homelessness, those who identify as survivors and those seeking support for domestic and sexual abuse; these resources have been combined by national organizations and community organizations.