6 Ways Anyone Can Help Domestic Violence Victims During COVID-19
Kelly Gonsalves is a sex educator, relationship coach, and journalist. She received her journalism degree from Northwestern University, and her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
As people around the world are forced to remain at home to stop the spread of the new coronavirus, global reports suggest that domestic violence is increasing dramatically.
"The combination of economic and social stresses brought on by the pandemic, as well as restrictions on movement, have dramatically increased the numbers of women and girls facing abuse, in almost all countries," the United Nations reports. Calls to helplines doubled in Lebanon and Malaysia and tripled in China compared with the same month last year, the U.N. reports; similar increases have been seen in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and elsewhere. In Australia, Google reported a 75% increase in searches related to getting help with domestic violence.
This is heartbreaking news, and we all have a role to play in fighting back against this surge in domestic violence. Here are a few ways anyone, anywhere, can help survivors and the organizations supporting them in these dire times:
1. Check in on your friends.
Many people assume they don't know anyone who is experiencing or has experienced domestic violence, but statistically speaking, that's pretty unlikely.
"Given the rates of violence, one in four women and one in seven men will experience extreme physical violence by their partner in their lifetime," says Katie Ray-Jones, the chief executive officer of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. "There's a really good chance that you know someone."
So check in on your friends right now, especially those who may be living or sheltering with partners or family members. "Do your best to keep in touch with people you think might be at risk," says Stephanie Nilva, esq., the executive director of Day One, a New York nonprofit working to end dating abuse and domestic violence.
The best way to sensitively check in is to text, call, or email and simply ask how they're doing and if they need anything from you right now. Ray-Jones notes that some survivors may not yet be ready to ask for help even when you reach out, so it's important to simply let your loved ones know that you're thinking of them and that you're always available if they need any help. "You always want to leave that door open for the conversation when someone is ready," she says.
2. Donate to domestic violence organizations.
"If you are financially able, organizations like Day One are facing growing demand and increased costs along with budget cuts," Nilva says. "Donations are welcome."
You can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline and ask to be connected with local shelters in your area where you can donate. The hotline has a database of over 5,000 providers across the country.
"Knowing that the domestic violence services system is overburdened before COVID, this is a great way that communities can be supporting their programs [as they] begin to prepare for that surge that most likely is going to happen once people can move a little more freely," says Ray-Jones.
3. Volunteer with your local program.
Local domestic violence organizations and shelters are often in need of support from volunteers. Volunteering opportunities might include helping with child care while survivors go to therapy sessions or medical appointments, sorting donated goods to be distributed to shelter residents, helping out with reception or running affiliated thrift shops to raise money for the shelter, and even things like painting apartments and giving haircuts for survivors.
"Typically what happens when people call in and they talk about what they do for a living, what their skill sets are, what they would like to do, the programs then work to match them based on that. There could be a variety of things that people can do," Ray-Jones says.
You can call the hotline and ask them to connect you with local shelters in your area. Most volunteering programs will be closed right now to avoid spreading COVID-19, but you can get started calling and connecting with your local shelter now to see how you can support them when they reopen. Domestic violence organizations are expecting to see a surge in requests for help after social distancing measures are lifted, as survivors will no longer be trapped with their perpetrators and thus now able to safely seek out help.
4. Share resources on social media.
"Opportunities to volunteer are limited right now, but increasing awareness about abusive behaviors can be done from anywhere at any time," Nilva says. "Sharing educational materials about healthy and unhealthy relationships educates your community and lets them know you are available if they are in need."
Posting resources for safely leaving abusive relationships is also a great way to help survivors safely access information without looking like they're seeking it out. Perpetrators sometimes monitor their victims' phones and web histories, so the survivors benefit greatly when that information naturally shows up in their feed because it doesn't seem suspicious.
5. If you think you might know someone who might be experiencing abuse, call the hotline.
Hotlines aren't only for survivors themselves—they're also for allies and loved ones looking to help the survivors they know or to get advice if they suspect something's going on but aren't sure. Family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers are the second-highest contact type to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, according to Ray-Jones.
"What we're really encouraging is for actually anyone who thinks they may know someone who is a victim to actually contact the hotline themselves," she explains, "and talk with an advocate about what they think may be going on, and then an advocate can coach them through that specific situation and how to possibly help."
Additionally, think before calling 9-1-1. "That can be really dangerous for a survivor, so that may not be the strategy that you want to first jump to deploy," Ray-Jones says.
6. Be sensitive to survivors' journeys.
It's very important not to judge survivors for the decisions they make. "We've all heard the stories of people saying 'If that was me, I would just leave,' and it's not usually that simple," Ray-Jones says. "Oftentimes survivors may be making choices that we can't ourselves understand."
There are so many barriers to leaving an abusive relationship, from financial dependence to psychological manipulation from the perpetrator. Exiting the relationship is also often the most physically dangerous time for an abuser, when the likelihood of homicide spikes. It's not easy to "just leave." And when you judge a survivor for any of their choices, you're placing blame on their shoulders for something that is not their fault at all and making their journey to get out even harder.
If you're supporting a survivor, Nilva recommends simply checking in on them regularly and respecting their guidelines for what's safest for them.
Survivors are strong, brave, and resilient, and we all need to do our part to support them during this trying time.
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