Navigating domestic abuse during a pandemic


During the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, domestic abuse cases have increased. 

Carolina Vieira

Content Warning: This article contains information about gender violence and domestic abuse.

As the coronavirus pandemic has progressed, the initial quarantine forced people to confine in their houses, leading to domestic violence cases surging. 

Cmdr. Jason Tuttle of the Ames Police Department said assaults seemed to be more severe when the pandemic began. 

“Spouses tend to have more propensity for violence when confined in close quarters with their significant other for a prolonged amount of time,” Tuttle said.

Organizations are also subject to barriers imposed by COVID-19. They’re no longer able to directly help victims in their homes because of social distancing guidelines and the potential to contract the virus.  

Stay-at-home orders were issued as COVID-19 cases started rising in the United States in March 2020. Employees were furloughed, laid off or told to work from home once schools closed. According to Time, advocates voiced fear over an uptick in abusive behavior as people’s mobility was restricted and restrained to their homes

Many victims were stuck with their perpetrators due to stay-at-home orders designed to protect the public and deter mass contamination. According to ABC Chicago, domestic violence hotlines expected a surge in demand for assistance as states enacted these regulations, but many entities observed the contrary.

Representatives of the Assault Care Center Extending Shelter & Support (ACCESS), an organization focused on helping survivors of domestic and sexual abuse, said they were bracing themselves at the start of the pandemic for heightened violence as a result of people being trapped in their homes, receiving little help and being under a great deal of stress. 

Despite having supported a steady number of survivors over the last year, Lydia Wolken, a sexual assault advocate, and Rachal Glen, a housing team supervisor, still recognized many people could not access care during that period. 

“That being said, I do believe that there have most likely been higher numbers of acts of violence, but that survivors were harder to reach,” Glen said.

Wolken and Glen explained that safety planning is still crucial and it is best done in collaboration with the survivors. Wolken and Glen urged people to reach out to ACCESS facilities, as they are free and private. 

The pandemic has also increased the number of vulnerabilities that can be exploited in a victim. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, these vulnerabilities might cause the victim to get stuck in a vicious circle, keeping them coming back to the perpetrator, with unemployment, isolation and potentially the need to provide for children being the most common causal nexus. Isolation and economic issues can lead to a codependent relationship, where perpetrators know how to manipulate and control the victim.

Wolken and Glen explained why victims of abuse are sometimes prone to getting stuck in a toxic impasse. 

“First, leaving an abusive relationship is very difficult, despite many victims making several attempts to flee,” they said. “Secondly, there are several impediments, for the most dangerous moment for a survivor is precisely when they attempt to flee. This is also the case of murder-suicides. Third, one can also experience affection for their partner and hope they improve their conduct, even though they might get hurt in the process.” 

For individuals potentially experiencing abuse, domestic disputes or gender violence, they can find resources on the ACCESS website

They can also get in contact with the various ACCESS hotlines:

Sexual Abuse Crisis Line: 515-292-5378; or toll-free: 800-203-3488

Domestic Violence Crisis Line: 515-292-0519; or toll-free: 855-983-4641

Housing/Sheltering Services Crisis Line: 515-292-0543; or toll-free: 855-696-2980

ACCESS Business Line: 515-292-0500; or fax: 515-292-0505