Risks of domestic violence increase during COVID-19 quarantines

 Woman in dark room stands in front of bright window with blinds
As a result of COVID-19, most of us are finding ourselves in a new and different space. Home is where we find ourselves. Regardless of how many years you’ve been together or have known those who live in the same space with you, this can be a bit of a challenge, to say the least. 
For those living within circumstances of domestic violence, this time of self-quarantine and social distancing is more drastic, difficult and dangerous than can be imagined. 
For those who perpetrate domestic violence, it’s all about control. Controlling who the victim can speak with, where they’re permitted to go, how they’ll spend their time and how they’ll get their needs met. The recommendation to self-quarantine greatly increases the level of risk for violence in these households. 
For many, unemployment as a result of COVID-19 is exacerbating risk factors of anxiety, which is frequently vented as anger and acting in harmful ways toward others. This expression of frustration and anger is making life so much more difficult for victims of domestic violence. 
If there was violence in the home before the emergence of COVID-19, before state-mandated social distancing and before unemployment, the violence will likely accelerate with these added stressors. 
Those living with violence in their homes don’t have the usual protective mechanisms of getting out of the house to take the kids to school, to make a run to the grocery store or the pharmacy. 
For many victims of domestic violence, their every move is being questioned. Things like: Who are you texting? Why are you talking with them? Can’t you make those kids behave? What’s wrong with you? Which quickly progresses to: You’re stupid. You’re a loser. This meal is terrible. Who taught you to cook? 
All too often the violence progresses from verbal and emotional abuse to physical abuse. The risk of violence further increases in the context of substance use. With fewer social outlets available right now, some may find themselves drinking more heavily or using other substances to cope with stress or boredom. This places those who are being abused at even greater risk. 
If you’re experiencing escalating violence, it may be a good thing to:
  • Develop a code word to use with a friend to let them know you need help and you need them to call for assistance. 
  • Have a “to-go” bag for you and your children. 
  • Develop an escape plan. 
  • Share your plan with those you trust and can rely on for assistance. 
 There are several resources for domestic violence in central Ohio: 
  • Choices for Domestic Violence 614-224-4663
  • OSU STAR – Trauma Recovery Center 614-293-STAR (7827)
  • Center for Family Safety and Healing  614-772-8200
  • Lutheran Social Services 24-hour crisis line: 614-224-HOME (4663)
  • Ohio Domestic Violence Network 614-781-9657  
  • BRAVO Buckeye Program Anti-Violence Organization 614-294-7867

One final point is that suicide risk increases exponentially when domestic violence victims are isolated. It’s important to act quickly if the victim voices thoughts of self-harm. 

Resources to assist with suicidal ideation: 
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
  • Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Disaster Distress Helpline Toll-Free: 1-800-985-5990 (English and español)
  • SMS: Text TalkWithUs to 66746 SMS (español): “Hablanos” al 66746
  • TTY: 1-800-846-8517
  • Website in English: https:// www.disasterdistress.samhsa.gov
  • Website in Spanish: https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/ disaster-distress-helpline/español
Ken Yeager is director of the Stress, Trauma and Resilience (STAR) Program at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and professor of psychiatry and behavioral health at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.