Economic stress, being confined in closed quarters, fear about the future — beyond health concerns, those are among the additional aftershocks wrought by COVID-19.
There is a definite link between the coronavirus and the increase in incidents of domestic violence across the region; however, Joy Whitenburg, director of resource development for End Violent Encounters, said it doesn’t have anything to do with the additional mental strains caused by the pandemic.
“All of those things do not make a nonviolent person become violent,” Whitenburg explained. “But there are many things about this pandemic that have essentially given abusers more access to their victims and better control of their victims.”
Domestic violence increases in severity and frequency during times of natural disaster, and EVE — the Lansing-based nonprofit support agency for survivors of domestic and sexual violence — has witnessed a similar pattern during the coronavirus outbreak.
“First, with a stay-at-home order, the normal escapes that a survivor would have from their abuser — like work, church, family functions, even going to the store — either don’t exist or are far less frequent,” Whitenburg said. “Isolation is a key step for abusers in keeping control over their victims, so a global pandemic forcing people to stay isolated only makes it easier for an abusive person.”
That access is near constant during self-isolation. Whitenburg explained that victims of domestic violence learn techniques to mitigate the abuse by trying to anticipate it and de-escalate a situation.
“This becomes far more difficult when routines change and you are forced into small areas with your abuser for extended amounts of time,” she said, noting that abuse is about power and control. “In situations where abusers start feeling like they’ve lost control, they will do anything to regain their sense of power and control — over whatever in their life they can.”
EVE’s Lansing shelter can house 35 people, and it was at full capacity when Whitenburg spoke to Capital Area Women’s LifeStyle Magazine. Full capacity is normal for the organization, which already had an existing support network of other domestic violence groups before the pandemic to reach and ask for housing help.
Although considered an essential service, a large number of EVE staffers have been able to work remotely in recent months. Those who are essential to the shelter, such as 24/7 crisis line advocates, are following strict procedures to keep themselves and shelter survivors safe. Staff coming into work are subject to certain protocols such as having their temperature and symptoms checked and monitored as well as verifying that they have been properly quarantining at home. Additional steps have been taken for survivors as well, and the cleaning schedule has been upgraded.