Updated: May 30, 2020
As countries come face-to-face with the reality and lingering presence of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2 “the virus responsible for COVID-19) governments around the world are implementing unpopular yet life-saving measures to slow the spread of the virus and protect their citizens. During this time of global uncertainty and unprecedented socioeconomic change, citizens are finding it difficult to transition to this “new normal,” and vulnerable and marginalized populations are trying to understand what pre-COVID-19 ‘normal’ felt like. This pandemic has forced countries to close their borders, establish orders which limit the movement of citizens, declare a limited state of emergencies, promote self-isolation, physical distancing, and execute executive stay at home orders for non-essential workers. The lockdown of cities, states, and countries are changing how we do business.
No doubt many of the measures will have negative long-term impacts on economies- affecting GPD, employment security, manufacturing, and the socioeconomic, health and well-being of citizens. Potentially forever changing how governments and global leaders operate. The presence of this pandemic is amplifying various social, economic, and cultural issues- including family and intimate partner violence (IPV).
This current situation also presents emerging opportunities which would require moral leadership to address some of our most pressing problems including the underlying causes of discrimination, oppression, violence and inequality.
Failure to address violence against women and girls will contribute to the social, cultural and economic regression of countries.
During this pandemic private and public institutions are reflecting on the way they conduct business. School districts are rising to the challenge to implement remote education for children of all ages and abilities. Mental health practitioners are researching ways to virtually provide critical services. Social workers are in high demand. Employers are looking to modern technology to keep companies operational. Yet, in all of this transition, one population remains uniquely impacted: victims and survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV). The Centers for Disease Control defines intimate partner violence (IPV) as “actual or threatened physical or sexual violence or psychological or emotional abuse directed toward a spouse, ex-spouse, current or former boyfriend or girlfriend, or current or former dating partner.”
Researchers estimate that as many as 40% of professionals have experienced IPV in the workplace before COVID-19. Globally, there is a surge in IPV and violence against women during this time. The United Nations Secretary-General has called on states to include IPV and violence against women and girls as a priority area of concern in their COVID-19 post-pandemic recovery plans. There are many unique ways that IPV may present under the current climate for us to be aware of, including, but not limited to:
Abusive partners creating obstacles such as hiding computers or chargers or refusing to parent children so partners cannot successfully work from home.
Withholding health insurance information.
Threatening to infect the household with COVID-19.
Refusing access to resources or demanding their partner's wages.
Withholding sanitizer, masks, and other items necessary for proper hygiene.
Forcing partners or children to leave the home through shopping or other events, increasing their risk of contracting COVID-19.
Forcing partners to engage in online sexual acts.
Creating an emotionally unhealthy and stressful home environment thus intensifying survivors fears of leaving or reporting IPV incidents due to stay-at-home requirements.
Although COVID-19 increases the risk and harm to survivors of IPV and their children, there are things all of us can do to support survivors during COVID-19.
Friends and Family
Friends and family members are one of the most critical support systems for victims and survivors of IPV.
During this pandemic period, friends and family can open their homes to victims and their children. If this is not possible, creating ways to stay in touch through phone calls, texting, and other means of virtual communication can help survivors manage increased stress as a result of stay-at-home orders. Friends and family can support survivors with developing a safety plan. A safety plan helps them to identify coping strategies, resources, and providing financial resources. The most important role family and friends can play are to listen compassionately and provide non-judgmental emotional support to victims and survivors.
This is an opportune time for employers to review existing IPV workplace policies, or to create a policy if one doesn’t exist. In the interim employers can connect with IPV professionals to provide training, resources to employees including online support, establish weekly online activities for employees to emotionally de-stress. Some key aspects of an effective, survivor-centered IPV policy includes:
Clear definitions for all terms related to IPV
Non-discriminatory and non-punitive inclusive of all intimate relationships
Workplace safety planning and leave options
Reasonable accommodations and assistance to victims
Universal and ongoing screening is critical to providing comprehensive, and potentially life-saving, healthcare.
Ongoing exposure to IPV may put survivors at increased risk of chronic health conditions or complications. Understanding a patient’s history equips healthcare providers in developing a comprehensive plan to address any illnesses. Healthcare providers should continue screening all patients they work with for IPV and intake practices must include opportunities for healthcare providers to privately speak with the patient multiple times. Having a policy or procedure in place can equip providers to ensure screening takes place in the event a partner is resistant.
Children living in environments where IPV is present are at substantially higher risk of experiencing child abuse and neglect. The risk increases more during this time when families are isolated and parent’s stress is increased. While the presence of IPV in and of itself does not constitute child abuse and neglect, witnessing IPV can negatively affect a child's development. Educators need to familiarize themselves with mandatory reporting requirements and district and state policy in reporting suspected cases of abuse and neglect of children. Teachers can support safety planning with children exposed to IPV in a variety of ways, including:
Providing children with opportunities to stay socially connected to peers.
Communicating directly with children.
Communicating with the non-offending parent on children’s educational, social, and emotional needs.
Being familiar with mandatory reporting requirements in your country, state and or district.
Incorporating social-emotional development and conflict transformation into the educational curriculum as a way to promote children’s development of resilience.
Working towards preventing violence, meaningful intervention strategies, victim and survivor support, enhancing of state machinery, and ultimately eradication of violence in all its forms.
Governments have a social responsibility to protect its citizens and must be held accountable when they fail to do so. One such failure is the not a comprehensive response to IPV. COVID-19 has not just created a “new normal”, it has unearthed deep-rooted. structural, political and symbolic violence. These structures create cultures of ‘perceived normalcy’, a covering for discrimination, violence, and inequality at the expense of human life and dignity. One study found an estimated lifetime cost of IPV to be $103,767 per female victim and $23,414 per male victim. This totaled nearly $3.6 trillion, based on 43 million U.S. adults with victimization history. The study categorized the economic cost as follows:
$2.1 trillion (59% of total) in medical costs.
$1.3 trillion (37%) in lost productivity among victims and perpetrators.
$73 billion (2%) in criminal justice activities.
$62 billion (2%) in other costs, including victim property loss or damage.
Government sources pay an estimated $1.3 trillion (37%) of the lifetime economic burden.
While governments work to manage the risks related to this pandemic, they must also develop an adequate response to IPV. The development of an adequate state response may include:
National policy and legislation which addresses IPV and holds perpetrators accountable.
Develop public, private, nonprofit partnership to develop and implement a coordinated survivor and family-centered prevention and intervention plan – this includes prevention and intervention programs, services at the family and community levels, rehabilitation services for perpetrators and multi-agency and community-based initiatives.
Systems advocacy to bridge the gaps between victims, survivors and systems they must navigate, and the prevailing disconnects between state and non-state actors and service providers and the communities they serve.
Training, development, and capacity building for all service providers, first responders and grassroots community workers.
Establishment of a national IPV fund to support victims and survivors with their transitioning process to be socially integrated into society.
Investment into evidence-based social research to guide public policy and legislation, and programs and services at the family and community levels.
Investment into grassroots non-profit organizations to scale up their services and programs.
Although responding to IPV may feel overwhelming, particularly in the context of a global pandemic and socioeconomic and political crisis, it is possible.
Addressing IPV issues in post-COVID-19 planning will significantly reduce the direct and indirect economic cost of IPV on countries. If all members of a community pull together to support survivors and children exposed to IPV, if governments prioritize this issue, we can increase the safety of people, even as they are mandated to stay home. We can prevent its reoccurrence in our societies and reduce its economic cost on developed and developing countries. As a community, we have the collective power to support victims and survivors, increase the safety of all community members, and ultimately prevent violence in all its forms.