Next week is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, and because of coronavirus, it’s harder than ever for people to leave abusive partnerships. While mandatory stay-home orders are necessary for public health, they present additional hardships for those experiencing verbal, economic and physical abuse.
People experiencing domestic violence no longer have the escape of going to work or a night out with friends or family. The stress from job loss or hours’ reductions, providing child care or homeschooling children, and trying to work from home can be overwhelming, even for the healthiest relationships. It’s riskier for victims to seek out privacy in order to research local housing options or domestic violence resources because the entire family is confined to the home. Meanwhile, hospitals are prioritizing coronavirus patients and limiting other services, and fear of catching the virus in a hospital or clinic may prevent abuse victims from seeking medical attention if they need it.
In my career as a Kootenai County prosecutor, I saw firsthand that abuse can look many different ways including: financial exploitation or preventing someone from working, physical, sexual, or verbal abuse, wrongful restraint, or involuntarily isolating a partner from family, friends, and colleagues. Because of COVID-19, victims may not be able to lean on their usual support networks. For example, if a victim’s aging parents are at elevated risk, a victim may be less likely to reach out or go stay with them. State and federal travel restrictions may impact their ability to leave. Some women’s shelters around the country are experiencing overcrowding or risk closure depending on the risk of infection.
Domestic violence was a problem in Idaho long before the virus hit. Census data shows that on a single day in Idaho, 514 victims of domestic violence and their children turned to community organizations for safety and help. The number of people experiencing domestic violence is likely much higher that those that actually seek help, since the World Health Organization reports that one in three women experience domestic violence. In 2017, Idaho saw 17 deaths related to abuse in the home, and rape occurs every 15 hours in our state.
Boise’s Women’s and Children’s Alliance has reported a 24% increase in calls since the outbreak. This mirrors the National Domestic Violence Hotline reports of an uptick in callers saying that their abusers are actually using COVID-19 as an excuse to further isolate them from their friends and family.
Because of court closures, many domestic violence organizations are relying on video services to file civil protection orders. To learn more about local clinicians and case managers, call the Idaho Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-669-3176. Voices Against Violence in Twin Falls also offers a confidential hotline where victims can access local resources at 208-733-0100.
Luke Malek is an attorney at Smith + Malek, a business law firm with offices in Boise, Coeur d’Alene, and Sandpoint. Malek served for six years in the Idaho Legislature.