Thinking about COVID-19 and the Impact on Domestic Violence

The Hon. Nikki J. Moreschi
Supervising Judge Glens Falls City Court, Domestic Violence Court Part


As more of us locally are being asked to stay home and practice social distancing to stop the spread of the coronavirus, there is concern that survivors of domestic violence and abuse may be negatively impacted. For them, their home may not be a safe-haven. Rather, home can be a dangerous place where an abuser is able to target the isolated victim with unrelenting, and now, seemingly inescapable, abuse tactics.

“We know that isolation compounds violence. It increases people’s risk, and it compounds the type of violence that people experience,” Emilee Whitehurst, CEO and president of the Houston Area Women’s Center.

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s CEO Katie Ray-Jones, the hotline has already started to hear from survivors whose abusive partners are leveraging covid-19 to further isolate, increase fear, and manipulate. They are hearing things like: My partner is threatening to kick me out of the house so I’ll get exposed and get sick; my partner’s threatening that if I get sick, they’re not going to pay for my health care or my medical treatment; my partner’s not letting me go see friends and family, and that’s my safety net, and I feel like they’re trying to isolate me.

Isolation is often a primary abuse tactic; one that may be seized on by an abuser during the mandate to stay home. However, there are many other tactics (too long to list) that may come into play at this time, not the least of which is financial control.

Worse, a victim may be afraid to reach out at the moment.  They may be afraid to go to a shelter – will they be exposed to the virus? They may justify not reaching out during a health care crisis because they think that others are in more “need.” Abusers may well use a health crisis, “pecking order,” against the victim, implying that he or she is selfish to reach out for assistance from police or like when other people are dying. Such tactics may be used to thwart the victim’s attempt to seek help.

For family members, they may be stuck trying to “read between-the-lines” of a Face book post or text to ascertain what is “really” going on in this victim’s household as they can no longer see the victim in person.  These are scary times indeed for victims.  Make no mistake.  Abusers are predatory and strike at points of weakness. The stay-at-home-mandate is prime breeding ground for such tactics.

Several Senators (Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)) and others were concerned enough to pen a letter on March 23, 2020 to Assistant Secretary Lynn Johnson, Administration for Children and Families, Department of Health and Human Services and Acting-Director Laura Rogers, Office on Violence Against Women, Department of Justice asking it to ensure anti-domestic violence and anti-sexual violence organizations have the…“flexibility, resources and information needed to continue to provide these critical services during the pandemic.”

“An unintended but foreseeable consequence of these drastic measures will be increased stress at home, which in turn creates a greater risk for domestic violence,” the senators wrote, referring to the shelter-in-place guidelines implemented in many states. See full letter following.

The senators who wrote the letter predicted that there will be an increase in the need for emergency child care services and domestic violence shelters as the coronavirus spreads. The continued need for supplies and resources to keep these critical programs afloat will only increase as the outbreak continues, the senators added.

So, what can you do?! Be on the alert. If you think someone you know is in an abusive relationship, reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 (TTY 1−800−787−3224), use the chat function on their website, or text LOVEIS to 22522. For Warren and Washington County, there is a 24-hour hotline, emergency shelter, supportive counseling, advocacy, crime victim assistance, support groups, community education and outreach. Their phone number is: 518-793-9496

Remember: during this time of isolation, it is friends and family that are going to be the helpers for victims. They are the one resource that people can safely reach out to for emotional support and to potentially strategize. However, for the helpers, a CAUTION TO PLEASE make sure you contact the hotline first to learn how to safely help so as not place a victim at further risk in an attempt to help. Domestic Violence is extremely complicated and delicate to handle. The hotlines have professional advisors that know the best way to proceed in helping a victim. Listen to them. They have dedicated their lives to the proper training and experience to help victims.

May we all keep an attuned eye and ear out for the silent victims. We could help save a life (or lives) by simply paying attention and acting on instinct in this unprecedented health crisis.