Social distancing has a dark side. As COVID-19 strengthens its grip on the world, people are encouraged to isolate themselves to avoid contracting the virus. For many families and couples, the most challenging issues they face involve staying healthy and keeping the kids occupied. But for victims of domestic violence, the danger increases with isolation and distancing from people outside their home.
Jobs and income are being lost, food and other household essentials are becoming scarce and panic seems to reign. Domestic violence is about power and control. And during this unusual time, people are feeling powerless, helpless and out of control. Unfortunately, without other healthy coping behaviours, anger and fear often lead to physical violence and emotional abuse. Be aware of the signs that your spouse’s emotions are escalating so you can move yourself and the kids to a safer part of your home or apartment — a space that’s free from weapons or sharp objects.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016 Personal Safety Survey, 2.2 million Australians have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from a partner and 3.6 million Australians have experience emotional abuse from a partner. With anxiety about the coronavirus pandemic on the rise and as more people are quarantined, authorities expect the number of domestic violence incidents to increase.
Help for victims
If you are a victim of domestic violence, follow these steps and seek assistance:
– Seek professional help immediately. Safety is a priority. You matter. God sees you as someone worthy of love, protection and safety. He sent His Son to die for individuals, not marriages. Take care of yourself.
– Break the silence. Tell a trusted friend, a family member or someone who can help you with the abuse.
– Document the abuse by taking pictures of your injuries.
– Make a safety plan. If you’re in an abusive relationship, Dr. Bill Maier, a clinical psychologist, recommends leaving your house at the first sign of anger and going to a prearranged place where you can be safe. Your plan should also include having extra toiletries and clothes tucked away in case you need to take them with you.
– If you must stay in your house because of social distancing or being quarantined, make sure you have an escape plan for getting out of the house (preferred door or window to exit). Practice this with your children and develop a code word for when they should get away and call 000. But make sure your children know never to get involved or attempt to protect you.
– Connect with a licensed counsellor who can help you with next steps. A counsellor can help you make important decisions about the situation and your future. Most therapists are doing video sessions during the coronavirus social distancing.
You can do this. It will be difficult, but you must get help. Don’t let the coronavirus quarantine become an excuse for your abuser’s behaviour.
How family and friends can help
1800RESPECT offers helpful tips for friends and family members who want to help a victim of domestic violence. One of the most important tips is to listen and be supportive. Remind the victim that this situation is not their fault. Be available and non-judgmental — and encourage them to seek help.
There is, however, one thing that friends and family members cannot do: “rescue” victims. 1800RESPECT points out that you need to “Understand that they may not be ready or it may not be safe to leave. Don’t try to force them to do what you think is best."
Where to turn for help
Many counsellors and organisations offer help to victims of domestic violence:
Christian Counsellors Association of Australia website has a search tool to find a Christian counsellor in your area.
Remember, you don’t have to face this alone. People are willing to help and waiting on you to reach out.