When Gov. Greg Abbott announced on Monday that the shelter-in-place in Texas would expire at midnight on Thursday, a plethora of mixed reactions resulted. To some Texans, midnight could not come any sooner, as feelings of boredom and isolation are all-consuming. For others, the date is an unwelcome and alarming mandate due to the possible consequences of “jumping the gun.” Many Texans are at odds regarding Abbott’s choice to slowly reopen businesses and gradually lift lockdown mandates. Despite the disagreement, there is one group of vulnerable individuals who surely sees the decision as a godsend relief and rescue.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced our hand to distance ourselves from each other in hopes of containing the virus. On a positive and encouraging note, stay-at-home orders have proven essential in slowing the spread of the virus and flattening the curve to alleviate our healthcare system. Unfortunately, while they have slowed down one pandemic, they have instigated what can be called another. Domestic violence cases around the United States have spiked as social distancing mandates have confined victims of domestic abuse in isolation with their abusers. The National Domestic Violence Hotline reported that an increasing magnitude of callers have stated that their abusers are using the virus as a method to exert control over their partner.
Social distancing has indisputable power. Yet, it does not excuse or erase the fact that many domestic abuse victims have been isolated in homes with abusers. High unemployment rates, economic stress and a lack of social support are all risk factors for intimate partner violence. Fears of sickness, close confinement and national emergencies are all grave contenders and contributors to increased domestic violence. The consequences of the pandemic have heightened risks and created these stressors, leading to the escalation of domestic violence cases. The stay-at-home order has opened the gateway for abusers to further horrifically trap their partners behind closed doors, compromising what little safety they had previously. Limited medical capacities, curtailed funding and compliance with social distancing has put many shelterers in a dangerous predicament. They are unable to provide the life-saving support needed by victims of abuse.
In saying this, even though shelter-in-place measures in Texas are coming to an end, this rise in violence must not be ignored as soon as it does. Although the lives of many in Texas are on the path to returning to normal as measures are relaxed, this is not the case for victims of domestic violence. Some stressors may be alleviated as forced isolation begins to dissipate. However, it will not change the reality that many fall victim to the horrific crime of intimate partner violence. How can we support and empower victims and survivors during and after times of restriction and lockdown?
We, as a country, should begin by not leaving behind those who are experiencing abuse as soon as normal life is on the horizon. We must be mindful of the fact that to the 12 million individuals in the United States who are affected by intimate partner violence each year, social distancing and shelter-in-place orders aren’t just inconveniences. As a community, we need to provide accessible means with which victims can safely reach out for help without putting themselves in harm’s way. We can accomplish this outreach through increased hotline advertisements, publicity campaigns that decrease the stigma of reaching out or greater legal punishment for offenders. As individuals, we can educate ourselves to notice warning signs of domestic abuse. We can reach out to family members or friends in judgement-free support, pointing them to avenues of safety and guidance. Most importantly, we must let those living each day in fear know that they are not alone, and we will not forget them.
You can find resources and help by calling 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing may use TTY 1-800-787-3224. The Brazos County Sexual Assault Resource Center is still operating remotely during the pandemic and can be reached at 979-731-1000 or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.