As millions of Americans are forced to shelter in place amid the coronavirus crisis, some of the most vulnerable are those confined to isolation with their abusers. On Monday, two dozen senators urged the Trump administration to make sure domestic violence victims aren’t forgotten as the government addresses the pandemic.
Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and others wrote a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services asking it to ensure anti-domestic violence and anti-sexual violence organizations have the “flexiblity, resources and information needed to continue to provide these critical services during the pandemic.”
“An unintended but foreseeable consequence of these drastic measures will be increased stress at home, which in turn creates a greater risk for domestic violence,” the senators wrote, referring to the shelter-in-place guidelines implemented in many states.
Incidences of intimate partner violence often increase during emergency situations like the one currently gripping the globe, according to studies. Domestic abuse increased in frequency and intensity after crises like 9/11, Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Katrina. Experts say this is likely because perpetrators have more contact with their families during these times and, as support systems break down in the wake of emergencies, victims are less likely or less able to seek help.
Activists in China reported an uptick in domestic abuse cases earlier this year when millions of people were under quarantine in their homes. “During a time of extreme lockdown with the coronavirus, when people are not allowed to move around, it makes it exponentially more difficult for a victim of domestic violence in the home to go somewhere else,” Leta Hong Fincher, author of “Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China,” told HuffPost earlier this month.
The senators who wrote the letter predicted that there will be an increase in the need for emergency child care services and domestic violence shelters as the coronavirus spreads. The continued need for supplies and resources to keep these critical programs afloat will only increase as the outbreak continues, the senators added.
The senators requested that the two HHS offices, Administration for Children and Families and the Office on Violence Against Women, answer several questions, including whether either has seen an increase in the need for domestic violence services in the wake of COVID-19 and how they plan to handle a rise in intimate partner violence cases. The lawmakers also asked that the offices brief them on their future plans and urged them to prepare for increased domestic abuse incidents.
“When people are required to stay home, abusive situations can become even worse,” Gillibrand said in a statement. “We have an obligation to ensure that providers of services to domestic abuse and sexual violence survivors have the preparation, resources, and funding to address the unique challenges that these victims face during a public health emergency.”
As part of the coronavirus relief bill, lawmakers included $45 million to provide more support to family violence shelters and $2 million to go toward the National Domestic Violence Hotline. The Trump administration and lawmakers reached a deal on the trillion-dollar emergency legislation on Wednesday morning, and a vote on the bill is expected later in the day.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
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