Domestic Violence: The Hidden Danger of Social Distancing

For most, this is a time of fear and uncertainty. Unfortunately, for some, the fear comes more from the solution than from the COVID-19 virus itself. While social distancing is essential to help minimize exposure to the virus and to save lives, the act itself can be dangerous for those in an abusive or alcohol-dependent relationship.

Isolation and Domestic Violence

Isolation is a common tactic used by an abuser to control his or her partner. By eliminating external sources of support for the victim, the abuser is able to solidify a position of power. This behavior can be demonstrated in a variety of ways, from monitoring a victim’s phone activity to completely cutting out or restricting contact with friends and family. Unfortunately, now that we are many weeks into this crisis, it is likely that the magnitude of partner abuse could intensify. According to BreakTheCycle.org, isolation can “create the space in a relationship for the partner using abusive behaviors to escalate other harmful behaviors.”

Alcohol Abuse Amplifies Risk

Evidence suggests that alcohol use increases the chance and gravity of domestic violence, demonstrating a direct correlation between the two. “Because alcohol use affects cognitive and physical function, it reduces a person’s self-control and lessens their ability to negotiate a non-violent resolution to conflicts,” according to Alcohol.org. “Alcohol is often involved in instances of domestic abuse, both by the perpetrator and the victim, which can result in more significant and negative outcomes.” In fact, an estimated 55 percent of people who commit domestic abuse were drinking, and women who experience domestic violence are up to 15 times more likely to abuse alcohol themselves. 

How COVID-19 Could Uniquely Impact Intimate Partner Violence Survivors

By being asked to further separate from others, this sense of isolation is even more pronounced for victims of abuse. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline website, there are a number of ways that the COVID-19 crisis could be uniquely impacting survivors of partner abuse: 

  • Abusive partners may withhold necessary items, such as hand sanitizer or disinfectants.
  • The sharing misinformation about the pandemic can be used by abusive partners to control or frighten survivors, or to prevent them from seeking appropriate medical attention if they have symptoms.
  • Abusive partners may withhold insurance cards, threaten to cancel insurance, or prevent survivors from seeking medical attention if they need it.
  • Programs that serve survivors may be significantly impacted – shelters may be full or may even stop intakes altogether. Survivors may also fear entering shelters because of being in close quarters with groups of people.
  • Survivors who are older or have chronic heart or lung conditions may be at increased risk in public places where they would typically get support, like shelters, counseling centers, or courthouses.
  • Travel restrictions may impact a survivor’s escape or safety plan – it may not be safe for them to use public transportation or to fly.
  • An abusive partner may feel more justified and escalate their isolation tactics.

With bars closed and restaurants not serving alcohol, sales have surged for alcohol delivery and online orders. USC News reports, “economic dislocation, job loss and fear of death by disease are triggers for substance use, which heightens the risk of other issues like suicide and domestic violence,” according to Daryl Davies, professor of clinical pharmacology at the USC School of Pharmacy and director of the Alcohol and Brain Research Laboratory at USC. In order to cope with anxiety and worry, many are turning to alcohol to self-medicate. 

Help Is Available

For those struggling with alcohol dependence, the impact of isolation can be even more amplified. Certain resources may be harder to access due to social distancing. Thankfully, technology has made it easier to connect with our loved ones. Those who are struggling with alcohol should find support in speaking with friends, family members, therapists, or anyone who may provide encouragement. As the duration of social distancing extends, some programs have also begun offering virtual 12-Step meetings available online.  

The National Domestic Violence Hotline recommends that those with friends or family members experiencing abuse remember that you cannot make decisions for them, but can encourage your loved one to think about their wellbeing, establish a safety plan, and practice self-care while in their own home. If you need help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 for TTY, or if you’re unable to speak safely, log onto thehotline.org or text LOVEIS to 22522.


Sobering Up