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The Shadow Pandemic: The Worldwide Increase in Domestic Abuse

Katrina Clasen, Design Editor

August 21, 2020

When global lockdowns were put into place, the world felt a little safer with the pandemic seemingly contained; however, closed doors and 24/7 confinement bred a much more sinister affliction. The UN has depicted the worldwide increase in domestic violence as a “shadow pandemic” parallel to COVID-19, saying cases of domestic abuse during the pandemic have increased by 20 percent.These numbers can only reflect the reported cases. Stress and isolation generate incendiary tensions and an absence of privacy subjects many survivors to more intimate scrutiny by their abuser, making it hard to reach out for help.

Only in the last few months, news sources and media outlets have begun to touch on the damage quarantine has caused in relation to domestic violence. Unfortunately, domestic abuse has only worsened as time ticks on.technological advances and financial dependency have become the harbingers of intimate abuse.

Technology can essentially become a system of remote control. Some abusers will hack into home networks like Nest to blast music through home sound systems or jack the thermostat to uninhabitable temperatures, (NPR). This can even be done when the victim is not at home, driving up electrical bills—here, technology, mental abuse, and financial abuse intersect. Though technology and money have become primary weapons for abusers to utilize, closeness has also become harmful. The introduction of tight living quarters and intimate surveillance that lockdowns produce has only worsened the already devastating living conditions for those at risk. 

As the abuse adapts to lockdown conditions, concerned community members have changed how they offer aid. During the eight-week lockdown, people in West Bank stood on their balconies banging pots and pans to let vulnerable women know that their homes were open to them. In the Thar Desert in India, community volunteers set up a hotline that still takes dozens of calls a day and organizes food deliveries that allow volunteers to check in regularly with these women, so they know they are not trapped alone. During the one-month lockdown in Houston, Texas, a group of students used social media and dressed in denim to signal that women could approach them if they needed help. Volunteers deliver food to dozens of vulnerable women who have been in touch with messages placed inside bread bags provide information on where they can get help if they need it.  

Across the globe, from the balconies of West Bank to the bread bags in our homes, communities are coming together to combat the ravaging shadow pandemic. Instagram and WhatsApp have become vehicles for susceptible women to connect with outside sources who are willing to help. Yet governments fundamentally neglected to prepare for the manner in which the new public health measures would create opportunities for abusers to terrorize their victims. Now, many are struggling to offer services to those who are at risk.

Economic crises have put escaping on hold. Divorce proceedings are postponed until months later and finding new housing during the outbreak is proven difficult. Not only has the lack of global governmental preparation caused chaos for those living through the pandemic crisis, it has cut off avenues of escape for victims of domestic abuse.

Institutions that should protect victims from abuse at home, several that are fragile and underfunded to begin with, are now straining to respond to the amplified need. Nevertheless, similar to the reaction to the infection itself, the delays reveal that irreparable harm may already have happened. Studies show that abusers are bound to hurt their partners and others in the wake of personal emergencies, including lost positions or major financial difficulties. With COVID-19 desolating the economy, such predicaments are bound to become much more frequent. The isolation has similarly devastated support networks, making it far more challenging for victims to get help or escape.

Coronavirus has demonstrated the significance of local communities and the strength that comes from looking after one another, but it has also amplified the danger that occurs behind closed doors. Although many global lockdowns are easing, the World Health Organization warns countries to be on alert for a second wave of COVID-19 illnesses. As the world’s political and administrative climate has only begun initiatives to protect and support domestic abuse victims, a second wave of lockdowns will be debilitating. As allies, we cannot simply promise our support to those suffering from domestic violence. Like all acts of just change, we must actively defend and assist those who are at risk.  


(provided by The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence)

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