COVID-19 had been creeping across the globe for just a few weeks when the United Nations recognized domestic violence as a “shadow pandemic.”
By the first week of April, the UN charted a 30-percent rise in reports of domestic violence in France over just three weeks. Similar spikes were documented in neighboring nations.
Domestic Violence Awareness Month, marked each October, challenges the public to pay more attention to a social ill that is horrifying to even contemplate. That has never been more true than in 2020.
The breadth of the issue is overwhelming. It is not a just a local problem, or a state problem, or an American problem. Because it happens behind closed doors, it can lurk in any neighborhood.
Experts at domestic violence agencies have had to cope this year with challenges such as shelters being re-purposed as health centers, while the coronavirus triggered abusers.
Financial stressors dovetailed with months of isolation just as victims were deprived of access to lifelines. Social workers saw a drop in reports during the early days of the pandemic. As warmer summer months and the economy drew people outdoors, those numbers began to rise again because survivors had more freedom to reach out for help.
Some agencies report that recent hotline calls have risen by more than 50 percent, and leaders on the issue say they are bracing for more with the arrival of the autumn frost.
October is an appropriate time to erase the stereotype of domestic violence. The U.S. Department of Justice reports that about 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are victims of physical violence by a partner each year. Children who witness the violence are often ancillary victims. In some homes this fall, young adults escaping violent households for college are being forced back home.
State leaders cannot leave this pandemic in the shadows. State Sen. Alex Kasser crafted “Jennifer’s Law” in honor of her missing constituent, Jennifer Dulos. Kasser is attempting to update the understanding of domestic violence in family court cases, to reflect that psychological abuse and coercive control can come in forms such as intimidation, isolation and removal of resources.
Lawmakers, sidetracked by a truncated session, have yet to act on the legislation. It’s a grim reminder that forms of abuse are modernized with a keystroke, while justice crawls. If you have the resources, agencies that support survivors are worthy places to support financially.
There will be a reckoning if domestic violence is not recognized as part of the challenge in trying to heal from the pandemic. In the wake of the recession a dozen years ago, there was a stark increase in reports of domestic violence.
The statistics, though, never reveal the truth. There are always victims who never step forward. They need bystanders willing to look and listen for the signs.
We all share a responsibility to pull the “shadow pandemic” into the light.