COVID-19 and the Rise of Domestic Violence

with Brittany Eltringham of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence

Health experts advise that staying home is a key tactic to reduce the spread of COVID-19. But home isn’t a safe space for everyone. While reports of domestic violence are on the rise, support organizations work to safely engage survivors.

Brittany Eltringham, Program Specialist for the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, discusses how isolation during COVID-19 has increased domestic abuse rates and resources available for those seeking help.

Posted on:

August 18, 2020

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: Americans have been urged to avoid public spaces and work remotely to protect themselves and others during the COVID-19 pandemic. But for those in abusive relationships, staying at home may not be the safest option. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers. "I'm Tetiana Anderson. Well, one in four women and one in nine men experienced domestic violence in their lifetime. Experts worry the numbers are rising because of the pandemic. Brittany Eltringham is a program specialist for the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, and she's joining me now to talk about all of this. Brittany, thank you so much for being here.

Eltringham: Hi, Tetiana. Thank you so much for having me.

Anderson: So, look, your organization basically says that the numbers are getting worse because of the pandemic. What are some of the ways that abusers are really using this opportunity to assert even more control over the people that they're abusing?

Eltringham: I feel like I can't talk about this issue without talking about isolation. It is the defining factor of COVID-19.It's the defining way in which we stay safe. But it's also one of the key tactics and characteristics that define abusive relationships and that define domestic violence. Domestic violence thrives in isolation. It is required in order for domestic violence to be successful. And it is one of the first tactics that a person who causes harm or a person who abuses will generally master is how to isolate the victim or the survivor. I think what you have with COVID-19is this perfect storm of stay-at-home orders, of mandatory shelter-in-place orders. And you have situations in which folks can no longer gather. Right? So you can't go to work. You can't go to school. You can't go to church. You can't go play sports. You can't find solace or refuge or even just a moment to break away and call and reach out for services or search and look for resources without worrying that someone is over your shoulder.

Anderson: And couple that with maybe fear that comes for people when they want to go to a shelter. But they're worried about being in a large group, for example.

Eltringham: Absolutely.

Anderson: What are some of the stories that you guys are hearing from some of these survivors about what they're going through, those personal stories that go with those numbers that we talked about earlier?

Eltringham: Absolutely. I mean, you're right. We're hearing that folks who abuse are using COVID-19 as a scare tactic to keep survivors from seeing their children or to keep survivors from seeing their families. So, again, there is that isolation. Some of the things that we're actually hearing from the field is that survivors are --We were already at capacity in shelters and things of that nature. Shelters are even more so at capacity because of the measures that they've had to take to keep folks healthy in the midst of this pandemic. So a lot of shelters are operating at half capacity or extremely limited capacity. And so when survivors are calling, the shelter is full. Or conversely, we're also hearing that survivors don't want to go to a shelter. They're scared of the congregate setting. So they're not contacting. They're not reaching out.

Anderson: So, you guys direct folks to a hotline. There's a text line and a website. And so our viewers know --We're going to have all that information upon our screen. That's what you're seeing right now. But there's something important to note with those resources, and that's that there are safety measures in place for the survivors who choose to use them. Explain what that means.

Eltringham: So, everyone had to pivot in the face of COVID-19.And what that meant is that a lot of our programs had to figure out or resource centers had to figure out ways to safely engage with survivors with all of these stay-at-home orders in place. And so what that creates is a heavy reliance on technology, being able to look at a website and then very quickly click a button that will allow you to escape that website in case your -- excuse me, in case your abuser is nearby. What it has also meant is that folks have moved heavily towards text services. A lot of therapists and counselors and case managers are now doing remote contact teletherapy, things of that nature. I do want to highlight with that, though, is that it does create a divide for folks who cannot access phone or Internet or computer in order to try to seek those services. And so that is something that we're cognizant of, is that there is a digital divide and that those who are already marginalized in this society and this experience of domestic violence are being faced with that, as well.

Anderson: So, no doubt these are crazy times for everybody. But I know that you guys like to say there's a little bit of a silver lining here with the COVID-19 pandemic and domestic violence, because it's shining a light on a lot of inequities. What are you talking about? Explain that for us.

Eltringham: I would say that it's a slightly grim or a fairly grim silver lining, and what I appreciate about this moment and what I know that the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence appreciates about this moment is that it is lifting a veil. It is showing us that the public health crisis that is domestic violence and the public health crisis that is racism are inextricably linked to this public health crisis that is COVID-19and this global pandemic. Racism impacts health equity. Domestic violence impacts health equity or lack of health equity. And we're seeing that play out by who is impacted by COVID-19,who is being --who is being infected and also who is being killed by this disease. With domestic violence and racism and this pandemic, housing is such a critical factor for how folks stay safe, and it's also such a critical factor for how folks experience freedom and wealth. And that is what we are seeing is not available in this moment, including healthcare. And it's not that health inequities are essential to any ethnic group. I really want to be clear about that. Racism and the structural impacts of racism and what they do to the body are the reason that we're seeing these disparate numbers and this disparate impact. And so it's really important to maintain the link between these three public health crises and to not gloss over that. We have a moment to make some really big shifts, but it does require us to be bold.

Anderson: Well, I think you're absolutely right. And this is the perfect storm, and it's also a great opportunity. So, Brittany Eltringham from the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, thank you so much for being here.

Eltringham: Thank you for having me.

Anderson: And thanks to our viewers, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the country, be sure to join us at I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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