This guest post on how to stay safe in quarantine with an abuser is by Sarita Hartz, who worked as a Victim Advocate Counselor at Tu Casa Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Center. She and I are both currently in quarantine in one of the only places in the US to currently have a legal mandate, which is why we are so passionate in helping as many people as we can prepare. It's important to note that while men are also the victims of abuse, the statistics show that women are predominantly the victims.
I used to work at a domestic violence center. I used to hold women’s shaking hands as they went to court to get a restraining order after being strangled by a phone cord. What I can tell you about the global quarantine we are facing is that many women and children will be trapped at home with their abusers.
How the Current Pandemic is Putting People at Risk of Abuse
Some abusers are using these lockdowns and fears surrounding illness as a way to further isolate their victims. “Perpetrators are threatening to throw their victims out on the street so they get sick,” Katie Ray-Jones, the CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline told TIME in a recent article.
Abuse is about having power and control. With many men facing the loss of their jobs or economic uncertainty, they feel helpless, and the potential for domestic violence grows exponentially. Couple that with anxiety, family tensions, and children being home from school, violence is set to escalate.
In China, where COVID-19 was first discovered last December advocates report three times as many domestic violence calls as compared to last year.
This quarantine is necessary and yet we must think about the devastating consequences for survivors who are living in terror within their own homes.
It is estimated that 2,237 people died in 2017 as victims of homicide due to an intimate partner. The National Domestic Violence Hotline reports 1 in 3 women and 1 in 10 men are victims of domestic abuse.
Quarantined with an Abuser: 6 Ways to Stay Safe
1. Leave While You Can
It’s scary, but now might be your best chance to leave before a quarantine goes into effect in your area. Call your local domestic violence shelter to make a plan or rely on friends and family
2. Create a Safety Plan
Identify safe areas of the house without weapons where you can plan an escape. Instruct your children not to get involved in a dispute, and how to go for help. Keep a phone on you at all times. Here's a resource on creating a safety plan.
3. Designate a Friend or Neighbor You Can Signal with a Code Word
It can feel embarrassing to ask for help, but it’s not worth your life. Choose an innocuous code word like “lamp” which will let them know you are in danger and to call the police
4. Have a Stash of Quarantine Resources/Go bag
Hide supplies for yourself in case your abuser cuts you off from resources. Cash/prepaid cards, prepaid phone, hand sanitizer/soap, toiletries, saltines, canned goods, protein bars, first aid kit. Keepsakes. Toys/books for children. Clothing. Keys. Prescriptions. I.D/copies of important documents
5. Practice Self-Care
It might feel impossible, but you can still take care of yourself. Some suggestions might be writing in a journal (you can hide from abuser), listening to music, cuddling a pet, going for a walk, yoga, deep breathing, baking, drinking a cup of tea, watching a funny movie, taking a bath. I've created more tools here.
If an argument ensues try not to engage. Placate if necessary. While it might feel terrible to submit to your partner’s control, there is no shame in doing what is necessary to keep you or your family safe.
What triggers them? Try to avoid it. Think about what helps calm your partner down. Have plausible reasons to leave the house if needed.
What You Can Do If You Suspect Abuse During Quarantine (and always)
1. Be Someone They Can Call
Be a safe person for them to call for help. Have a designated code word. Don’t be judgmental. Simply ask what you can do to help.
2. Give Empowering Support
Give options and empower them to make their own decisions. Many victims have low self-esteem and need extra encouragement.
3. Convincing Them to Leave Immediately Isn't Always Best
Don’t try to convince them to leave abuser at this time without a plan. This can ostracize you from the person if they decide to go back. Domestic violence is complex and often victims are reliant upon their abusers for income or are afraid to be separated from their children.
4. Protect Yourself Too
Don’t put yourself in harm’s way. Call 911 if you hear screaming/violence occurring. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
5. Donate Resources or Your Time
Donate to local domestic violence programs that may be facing funding issues. You can also seek out voluntary positions that can aid organizations in many ways.
6. Share This Article
There are many people who need this information right now. Consider sharing this article to your social media so it isn't directed at any one person. Helping spread this information is one easy step you can take to support victims of domestic violence.
A Note From Dr. Brighten:
Please consider also donating food, clothing, toys, and other items to shelters for victims of domestic violence at this time. If you did buy too much during your quarantine preparation, consider passing it along to those in need.
This is a difficult topic and not one a lot of people want to acknowledge, let alone talk about. Please help us share this information with people who need it most by posting to social media, sharing with a friend or passing along in an email. We appreciate your support.