The impacts of COVID-19 on domestic violence survivors

It has been about three months since government leaders and Public Health experts issued stay at home orders and social distancing guidelines. COVID-19 has fundamentally altered day-to-day life for everyone, it has also disproportionately harmed certain populations and communities as both the illness and impacts of the COVID-19 response have exacerbated existing disparities within our communities. The lasting legacies of structural racism have meant that Black, Native, and other communities of color have been especially vulnerable to both direct and indirect health and economic harms of COVID-19. In a similarly complex and harmful way, the pandemic has created conditions that are likely to put many survivors of domestic violence at an increased risk of abuse and/or decreased access to critical supports.

Patterns of power and control

Physical abuse is most frequently associated with the term, ‘domestic violence,’ but it is used to describe a wide range of behavior used by an abusive partner to exercise power and control over someone they are in a relationship with. Abusive relationships frequently include elements of isolation, the abusive partner attempting to cut off the person experiencing abuse (frequently referred to as the ‘survivor’) from family, friends, social supports and community. Another common abusive tactic is interference with a survivor’s means of income. Decreased financial autonomy can severely limit a survivor’s life choices and increases an abusive partner’s ability to exercise control over their life. Social distancing, staying at home more and decreased mobility during the pandemic may increase survivors’ vulnerability to the behaviors of abusive partners, while also decreasing their access to important resources and supports.

Flexible survivor-driven supports

People experiencing domestic violence are best supported by flexible, survivor-driven supports that prioritize the self-determination and autonomy of survivors. Flexible survivor-driven supports, such as Mobile Advocacy, allow programs the capacity to provide a tailored combination of services and resources to help survivors improve their safety, health and stability. The King County Department of Community and Human Services’ Adult Services Division, including the Veterans, Seniors and Human Services Levy (VSHSL), supports a range of gender-based violence providers who are working to meet the needs of people experiencing domestic and sexual violence throughout King County. The impacts of COVID-19 have further highlighted the need for flexible, varied survivor supports that strengthen community capacity to prevent and respond to abuse. Our partners are working hard to adapt their supports to the unique conditions impacting survivors at this time.  For a list of providers and how to reach out for support visit our webpage.

Connection is key

Friends, family and community play a critical role in supporting people experiencing domestic violence. Many of the skills and habits that we developed during the pandemic to stay connected to family and friends while physically distant (e.g. checking-in via text, video calls, asking and sharing in ‘more real’ or vulnerable ways about personal and mental health, mutual aid and other material supports) are the same skills and habits that we can continue to use to check-in on loved ones and offer support around relationship issues and even abuse. Maintaining connection to someone experiencing domestic violence can help mitigate an abusive partner’s attempts to isolate a survivor.

Resources for domestic violence advocates