When Oregon Governor Kate Brown issued her emergency lockdown order to help slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, it created an entirely unintended consequence. For those people living with domestic violence, being isolated with an abuser at home potentially puts them a greater risk of abuse.
And the numbers seem to be showing this. With more people staying at home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, reports are showing an increase in the number of reported domestic violence cases not only in Oregon, but across the country. The concern that many domestic violence advocates and law enforcement officials are facing is the possibility that stay-at-home and self-isolation orders may create an environment where vulnerable victims are unable to receive the help or support they need.
To add to the concern, it seems that the escalation in domestic violence is not only being observed in households where there’s a history of violence, but also in cases where there isn’t a history of violence. Lay-offs and decreased hours of employment have led to more financial struggles, and when layered with a very natural fear of becoming sick, this has worked together to increase family stress. Additionally, when confined to a small spaces, with no opportunity for abuser and victim to separate from each other to cool down, the likelihood of lambasting and abuse increases. As these social distancing and lockdown restrictions tighten - not being allowed to go to work, children not allowed to go to school – it ends up creating a “pressure cooker” environment.
Not only are instances of physical abuse rising, mental, financial, and psychological abuse are also expected to surge over the coming weeks and months. While these forms of abuse may not leave physical marks, they are equally damaging and traumatizing.
Sadly, abusers can use the coronavirus pandemic to take further advantage of their victims in a myriad of ways. The risk of being subjected to this abuse can become enhanced in several ways:
- Abusive partners giving out misinformation about the pandemic to control or frighten victims and to prevent them gaining a real understanding of their situation in order to make them more manipulative and submissive.
- Abusive partners preventing survivors from seeking needed medical attention by withholding insurance cards, or threatening to cancel insurance.
- Programs that provide support survivors may be overwhelmed –- shelters may be full, in turn no longer being able to take in new victims of domestic violence. Survivors may also fear entering a shelter and being in close quarters to others, due to a fear of the virus.
- Elderly or vulnerable victims, such as those who have chronic heart or lung conditions, may feel at increased risk in public places where they would typically get support, such as shelters, counseling centers, or courthouses.
- New and everchanging travel restrictions may impact a survivor’s escape or safety plan – such as restrictions on flights, or new requirements for public transport.
- An abusive partner may suddenly feel empowered and justified in their isolation tactics, and use the pandemic as a weapon of control.
While leaving an abuser can be dangerous and difficult during these times, survivors can take actions and precautions to ready themselves for doing so if needed.
The first step should be to create a safety plan. Such a plan might include:
- Get in contact with a domestic violence hotline or women’s shelter for advice and support. It’s important that these points of contact be made at a safe time when the abuse is not nearby, such as from a friends house, or at a local park.
- Start putting together an emergency bag of items that may be needed when you leave. This might include extra clothes, keys, or extra money. Store the bag in a safe place, and keep additional items, such as medications, I.D.s, or personal papers nearby where they can be procured quickly.
- Create a plan of exactly where you'll go and the routes or resources you can use to get there.
Be mindful of the footprint that technology leaves, as an abuser may monitor your telephone or online communications to try and track your location. There are certain steps you can take to help maintain your privacy, such as:
- Be cautious of your phone use, as it’s possible for people to intercept calls and listen to your conversation. Additionally, an abuser may check caller ID, or your phone billing records to track call and texting history. If possible, borrow a friends phone, or use a public phone.
- Be equally cautious of computer use, as it’s possible for an abuser to use spyware to monitor emails or websites visited. Rather, try using a computer at work, a friend’s house, or at the library.
- Be mindful of any GPS devices within your vehicle that your abuse could use to track your location.
- Frequently update your email password, and pick passwords that would be impossible for your abuser to guess. Additionally, clear your viewing history on your phone or laptop.
However, it is important to know that, even in these times of business closures and reduced access to services, there are still venues available for you to get help. Here are some of the resources you can reach out to for help:
- Call Emergency: 911
- Call to Safety (Formerly Portland Women’s Crisis Line): 503-235-5333
- Aging & Disability Services 24hr. Help Line: 503-988-3646
- Alcohol & Drug Helpline: 1-800-923-4357: or 503-244-1312
- Child Abuse Hotline: 503-731-3100
- City Of Portland Information And Referral: 503-823-4636
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE
- Multnomah County Crisis Line: 503-988-4888
- Clackamas Women’s Services: 503-722-2366
- Volunteers Of America Home Free: 503-771-5503
- Washington Co. Center for Victim Services: 503-846-3020
Domestic Violence Emergency Shelters:
- Bradley-Angle House: 503-281-2442
- Clackamas Women’s Services: 503-654-2288
- Columbia Co. Women’s Resource Center: 1-503-397-6161
- Domestic Violence Resource Center: 503-469-8620
- Safechoice/Vancouver YWCA: 1-360-695-0501
- Salvation Army West Women’s & Children’s: 503-224-7718
- Yolanda House of YWCA: 503-977-7930 or 503-535-3266
- National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
- State of Oregon Department of Human Services for Domestic Violence
- Volunteers Of America
Domestic abuse takes many forms and victims all too often are led to believe that their claims will not be believed if they come forward. If you feel that you or someone in your family may be subject to domestic abuse, please know that our firm has significant experience in representing clients who have survived the unimaginable, and we will never silence victims of domestic abuse. Rather, we are passionate about providing a voice for those who have been made to feel that they don’t have one and fervent in fighting for justice.
Do not wait to take action against your abuser and understand that you have not been forgotten during this time—domestic violence is a priority, and courts are still accepting cases for those who are in danger and need help. Attorneys at Pacific Cascade Family Law can support you and encourage you to have the confidence and strength to take action to protect yourself and your children. If you are someone you know has been abused, please do not hesitate to contact our firm at (888) 981-9511">(888) 981-9511 for the help you deserve.