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When home is not a safe place: Women and girls at risk for domestic and sexual violence

As our country and communities consider new resources and remedies during this COVID-19 crisis, it is important that the needs of those most vulnerable to domestic and sexual abuse are not forgotten.

Photo by Jon Eric Marababol on Unsplash

Now that Minnesotans have been directed to stay at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, we should all be aware that this is a terrifying prospect for many. For women and girls at risk for domestic and sexual violence, their fear is warranted; being trapped at home is dangerous.

COVID-19 is not the cause of domestic violence, but it can escalate an already abusive situation. Those who use violence do so because they believe they are entitled to power and control in a relationship. Social isolation is a common tool used to maintain this dominance. Some tactics may include withholding medical care, monitoring access to technology, and not allowing them to speak to friends and family.

Abusers frequently hold deep-seated beliefs that their will should prevail over all others in a household. Because women and children are spending more time near the abuser, their daily demands to do things “their way” and the “right way” will be intensified. Resistance or perceived “misbehavior” will likely lead to increased incidents of domestic violence. In addition to the risk of physical injuries, research shows that stress and anxiety on domestic violence victims increases their risks for long-term health problems.

The impacts of this on women who cannot find safety or respite from abuse are profound.

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Today we are experiencing a pandemic within a pandemic. Violence against women is the most common form of violence in the world. The United Nations reports that every day, 139 women worldwide are killed by their intimate partners or family members.

As our country and communities consider new resources and remedies during this crisis, it is important that the needs of those most vulnerable to domestic and sexual abuse are not forgotten. As other services are shut down, domestic and sexual violence programs are one of the few resources still available offering assistance. These programs are trying to do more with less and are underfunded.

Melissa Scaia
Melissa Scaia
Advocacy organizations throughout the country have signed a letter calling on Congress to include provisions in the COVID-19 emergency legislation and stimulus package to address these dire needs by investing more resources to address the unique needs of violence survivors, and securing needed policy changes and increased resources as a matter of urgency.

We call on community leaders and representatives to prioritize aid to women and children to support their human right to live free from violence.

We can all also reach out to vulnerable people in our social circles and serve as a lifeline during periods of isolation. We can deepen our conversations about healthy relationships and equality.

If you or a loved one is at risk or experiencing sexual and domestic violence, there are resources available. In the United States, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or the Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

Melissa Scaia is the director of international training at Global Rights for Women in Minneapolis.

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