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Understanding the Victims of The COVID-19 Domestic Violence Surge

COVID-19’s domestic violence spike

Domestic violence occurs between people in an intimate relationship. It occurs between any gender and sexual orientation. It takes the form of threats, emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse.

With COVID-19 taking precedence on our lives, we are stuck in certain living conditions that may not always be beneficial for our health. One vulnerable group that cannot be overlooked are those who are being domestically abused.

According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, 7.5% of women and 3.8% of men experienced domestic abuse in 2018-19. As of May 2020, nearly 1 in 3 women experience physical violence from an intimate partner. Pregnant women experience more; the figure increases during the obstetric period, worsens during pregnancy and increases postpartum. 

Pregnancy and intimate partner violence

A lot of times, pregnancy is when domestic violence begins; domestic violence was the sole leading cause of deaths in pregnant women in 2005. Violence experienced during pregnancy is greater in African-American women, those that have more than one child and women of 20 years and younger. In 2018, it was found that higher income countries have lower prevalence of violence against pregnant women at ~13.3%. Lower income countries have a higher rate of ~27.7%.

While pregnancy poses other dangerous medical complications like heart conditions, stroke, diabetes and pre-eclampsia, domestic violence is a primary health issue. Searches of ‘health complications during pregnancy’ on public medical services, such as the NHS or Healthline, detail no indication of the health implications of domestic violence. Meanwhile, domestic violence and abuse exacerbates the risk of miscarriage, premature birth, infection, injury and death to babies and their mothers. 

It’s essential that the health risks of domestic violence experienced during pregnancy are well-known, to prevent health complications and maternal and fetal deaths. Domestic violence towards pregnant women can not be hidden as a socioeconomic issue, but has to be considered, at the forefront, as a known health complication and violation too. 

Domestic violence victim-blaming is rife

Pregnant women are just one group of people who experience domestic violence. Victims feel shame, guilt and blame for their experiences, perpetrated by their abuser, which leads to such low report rates. 

When victims (or concerned friends and family) do report domestic violence, they can feel further invalidation and discredit due to a complex and interwoven first responder system. This system needs a constant renewal of domestic violence education in order to function more empathetically. Some first responders place blame on the victim out of lack of understanding. 

This devastating truth was revealed in a Splinter study in 2016, in which 403 emergency medical paramedics in Florida were surveyed. Disturbingly, 33% of first responders believed that domestic violence was a usual consequence of everyday stress. Even worse, around half believed that if the victim stayed in a violent situation, they were responsible for the continuing abuse. Furthermore, 21% of those surveyed viewed domestic violence victims as secretly wanting to be abused.

It’s vital to understand that the initial impression that a first responder gives could make or break a victim’s confidence in navigating an abusive situation; it could create a feeling that seeking help only exacerbates their entrapment, or it could empower them to leave the abusive relationship. 

This could mean that, even though the police have mandatory procedures for the arrest of domestic abusers, the cycle is set to continue as the abuser is eventually released and can return to the relationship with their victim. 

Perhaps treating domestic violence incidents in the same way as community violence incidents would be of great benefit to crime reduction, with greater analysis and debriefing over individual cases. 

Always report domestic violence

Not enough people report the domestic violence they experience, and helplines are a safe way to do so. 

According to ’Safe Lives: Ending Domestic Violence’, it takes an average of 50 incidents of abuse before a victim seeks help. A victim must not trust their abuser when they say they’re the cause of their abuse. Victims must talk to people and ask for help.

If you are experiencing domestic violence, there are resources available to help you: talking in confidence to a GP, midwife, health visitor, obstetrician, the police or social worker. You can also talk over the phone to charity helplines, like the Freephone National Domestic Abuse Helpline, run by Refuge. Organisations like Women’s Aid also help to keep women and children safe from intimate partner violence. 

With resources available like this, we must remember to champion the help ourselves. We must join the fight for a universal foundation of empathy and understanding for the victims of domestic violence. While we should always be aware that we live in a society underpinned by patriarchal influences, we should also remember, as feminists, that one size does not fit all when it comes to domestic violence cases, policies and interventions. Help is available for all. 

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