WASHINGTON, D.C. — The disruptions from the COVID pandemic touch nearly every part of life, especially for those in unsafe situations at home.
“It’s always been at the crisis level, but because of the pandemic, it’s become more of a crisis,” said Victoria Grant, with the Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center.
Domestic violence in the COVID era is sometimes described as a “shadow pandemic” because of the added complications it’s presenting in confronting it.
“We know that many individuals are in isolation with the person who's causing them harm,” said Katie Ray-Jones, CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
More than 25 years after its launch, the National Domestic Violence Hotline recently received its 6 millionth contact. It came in from Ohio, through the hotline’s online chatbox, a form of communication that didn’t even exist when the phone hotline first started.
Since the pandemic began in 2020, contacts to the hotline are up 6%.
“What we've seen is that over 15,000 more individuals have reached out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline and stated that COVID-19 was somehow playing a part in their relationship,” Ray-Jones said.
Part of the problem, she said, is that the system in place to respond to domestic violence is straining under COVID pressures.
“It has historically been under-resourced and overburdened,” Ray-Jones said. “So, it's really been a place where we've had to think outside of our traditional resources about how to keep people safe and what strategies they want to employ in the midst of a pandemic.”
When domestic violence shelters needed to limit capacity because of COVID, some hotels stepped in to temporarily relieve the need. However, Ray-Jones says the need goes beyond that, with more funding required for legal resources and counseling services.
“These are all critical components that survivors need to really break through—break from that relationship and live a life free from violence,” she said.
Currently, there are three bills in Congress that could help.
- The Violence Against Women Act (Reauthorization) in the U.S. House
- Family Violence Prevention and Services Improvement Act in the U.S. House
- Safe Connections Act in the U.S. Senate
Some of the bills would fund domestic violence programs and services, while one helps survivors disconnect from shared cell phone plans that can be used for stalking. Whether any of them manage to pass both chambers of Congress remains to be seen.
“These are critical pieces of legislation that are long overdue,” Ray-Jones said.
if you or someone you know is facing domestic violence, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE (7233) or go online by clicking here.