The Hidden Dangers of Lockdown Orders for Domestic Violence Victims and Companion Animals
Co-authored by Brittany Hill, Animal Legal Defense Fund; Phil Arkow, Coordinator, the National Link Coalition; and Andrew Campbell, CEO, Campbell Research & Consulting
As shelter-in-place orders are given across the nation, there is a growing concern that family violence will be on the rise. Lockdown orders have us all finding new ways of coping with increased anxiety, economic stressors, cabin fever from close confinement, inundation of negative news, balancing children’s needs for education and constant stimulation, and general uncertainty. However, the results of shelter-in-place orders can be devastating for domestic violence victims. Having limited access to anything – or anyone – outside of the home, domestic violence victims are facing a disturbing reality: incessant confinement with their abusers; unavailable resources; and increased vulnerability. With more people – and animals – confined to their homes, experts believe that rates of domestic violence will dramatically increase. In fact, China’s media reported that domestic violence tripled last month during the country’s mandatory lockdown and France is reporting a 32% increase in domestic violence.
While social distancing may be new to many of us, for domestic violence victims, being kept away from loved ones, work, and social gatherings is, sadly, nothing new. Abusers use a variety of control tactics to exert power over others, including restricting victims’ movements to certain places, cutting off resources, and keeping victims away from loved ones. With the heightened restrictions currently in place for so many Americans for the foreseeable future, abusers may use the COVID-19 outbreak to exercise further control over human and animal victims, including discouraging them from leaving the home for any reason, all in the name of preventing potential exposure to the coronavirus. This may make it nearly impossible for victims to obtain the essential services they need.
Additionally, the COVID-19 crisis presents some unique problems for domestic violence victims, particularly with obtaining treatment for abuse-related injuries. With the growing tally of reported COVID-19 cases, many victims are reluctant to seek medical treatment at hospitals out of fear of getting exposed to the coronavirus. Consequently, they are forgoing dire medical and veterinary care and opportunities to expose their abusers. Experts believe that abusers may exploit this fear and escalate their violence because they know their victims may be less likely to obtain treatment. Abusers themselves may be under additional financial stress and may take out their aggression on the most convenient targets. With bars and restaurants closed, abusers may also be drinking more at home. Concurrently, there have been reports of alarming increases in the sale of firearms and ammunition.
Unfortunately, humans are not the only vulnerable victims in the home. Often, pets are the collateral victims of domestic violence and are used as pawns by abusers to manipulate and control human victims. Companion animals may often be the sole source of unconditional love, security, stability, companionship, and comfort – all critical components of mental health – for victims of domestic violence. In turn, abusers harm – and in some intensified acts of violence, kill – animals in the home to further control their human victims. Many of these appalling acts of violence are done in front of human victims. In fact, abusers may often go out of their way to make sure any children residing in the home witness the acts of animal abuse to further intensify the effect on the household.
Domestic violence victims frequently use windows of opportunity to seek refuge from their abuse, waiting until they are alone or out of the home to find help. These opportunities are no longer readily available due to many schools and workplaces closing and social gatherings eliminated. Having no way of escaping confinement with their abusers is likely taking a toll on the emotional, physical, and mental wellbeing of all victims. Now, more than ever, all domestic violence victims need access to help and resources they urgently need.
Many shelters are reeling from the COVID-19 crisis, trying their best to remain open, but it has not been easy. In some cities, domestic violence shelters have been deemed essential services, but are seeing their numbers at or near capacity. In other cities, particularly smaller shelters have seen a decrease in staffing levels and volunteer support, leading to the termination of walk-in services, making it difficult for people to obtain resources and help. However, domestic violence agencies are trying their best to adapt. Many are utilizing alternative ways to communicate with victims, by increasing phone and virtual services. While it may still be difficult for victims to contact agencies for help and resources because they have limited time away from their abusers, it is imperative that victims have alternative methods to contact agencies for help.
Shelters should be aware that pets in the home are also at an increased risk of experiencing violence because of COVID-19. Many domestic violence victims stay in abusive situations because they are either unable to take their companion animal with them or have no safe place to foster or re-home their animal. In turn, shelters and domestic violence hotlines should ask callers about companion animals in the home and work with callers on including companion animals in any escape plans. Furthermore, shelters should be aware of resources available to domestic violence victims with companion animals. The Animal Welfare Institute, RedRover, and Sheltering Animals & Families Together maintain lists of organizations that either provide co-sheltering services to domestic violence victims and their companion animals or have cooperative agreements with community agencies for off-site foster care. The lists, and more information, can be found at Sheltering Animals & Families Together and the The Animal Welfare Institute.
While these are dire times for domestic violence victims, social services are available. During this national crisis, there is great opportunity for domestic violence shelters and animal welfare providers to improve collaborations and ensure that victims of domestic violence and their companion animals receive the resources and assistance they need, both during this pandemic and thereafter.
If you or a loved one are experiencing domestic violence, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or https://www.thehotline.org/.
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