Confronting The Isolation of Intimate Partner Violence and Child Abuse

As America on ‘Pause’ continues, we are all told to stay at home and/or work from home. For some families, that is a dangerous proposition. The places we call ‘home’, for many, are not always safe havens for the adults or the children who live there.

COVID-19 has caused major economic devastation, and has disconnected many from community resources and support systems. The widespread uncertainty of life today has many people confused and has brought forth panic, anxiety and intense stress. Some are angry, while others feel depressed. The range of emotions is wide and without positive outlets to identify and manage these emotions, home can become a dangerous and unhealthy place to be.

close up photo of boy with pacifier in his mouth

Some conditions may lead to violence in families where it never existed before and in homes where violence and maltreatment has been a problem. Violence in the home has an overall cost to society, leading to potentially negative  physical and mental health outcomes. These outcomes include substance use, depression, a higher risk of chronic disease and PTSD.  Victims of domestic violence and child abuse and neglect are at greater risk for injuries that result in fatal outcomes.

The CDC estimates that 1 in 4 women and almost 1 in 10 men have experienced intimate partner violence[IPV], sexual and physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime. More than 43 million women and 38 million men experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Data from U.S. crime reports that 16%[1 in 6] of homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner.

Before this pandemic, a victim or survivor could leave a situation or file a protective order with the police. Right now, however, these options aren’t available to many. A stay-at-home order can force victims to remain in a dangerous environment.

CDC reports that at least 1 in 7 children have experienced child abuse and/or neglect in the past year and in 2018, almost 1,770 children died of abuse and neglect in the U.S. Rates of child abuse and neglect are five times higher for children in families with low socioeconomic status compared to children in families with higher socioeconomic status. Child abuse and neglect can have a tremendous impact on lifelong health and well-being if left untreated. Exposure to violence in childhood increases the risks of injury, future violence victimization and perpetration, substance abuse, delayed brain development, sexually transmitted infections, lower educational attainment and limited employment opportunities.


During COVID-19, children are especially vulnerable to abuse. Increased stress levels among parents is a major predictor of physical abuse and neglect of children. When parents are stressed, they are more likely to respond to their child’s anxious behaviors or demands in aggressive and abusive ways. The support systems we are used to, like extended family, schools and child care, religious groups and other community-based organizations, are not available for many due to social distancing and the stay at home orders.

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Police and emergency services are interrupted and/or discouraged for many. In New York City, for example, a TV public service announcement openly states that residents should not call emergency services, 911, unless the emergency is ‘really serious’ or ‘grave’. While I understand the message’s purpose, the interpretation of the message for some, tells them that unless they are literally about to die, they should not call for help. The general public safety is now put through triage and prioritized to determine the how fast front line workers respond or whether they respond at all. That is a dangerous message, particularly for children, the most vulnerable.

Calling 911 is not always an option for a child, and the police or emergency medical services only respond after a parent frantically calls for help. At that point, the child in more urgent need of emergency services, is not breathing and/or has been severely injured. Child protective service agencies now have strained resources and working on limited staff, making workers unable to conduct home visits in many areas with stay at home orders. Children are not in school, making teachers and counselors unable to witness signs of abuse and promptly report to the proper authorities.

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All of these facts and statistics, the data, inform us that we send strong wide-reaching messages to victims and survivors that make it clear that help is still available. We can work with law enforcement and other local and state personnel to help them understand that rigid stay at home or ‘sheltering in place’ orders need be more relaxed when the home is unsafe.

Virtual counseling  can be offered or telephone check-ins made available. Hotels/motels and hospitality industries have always provided help to house the homeless or healthcare practitioners. Remember Tina Turner’s autobiography? Escaping an abusive relationship, she was aided by hoteliers, who allowed her a room for safety.  The vulnerable populations affected by domestic violence can use these services.

We must ensure that healthcare practitioners are screening patients for intimate partner violence and child abuseLast and equally, if not more important, is that neighbors be neighborly, no matter where the location. Check in on one another, and if you see, hear or suspect a dangerous situation, make those 911 calls. It could be life-saving. Let your neighbors know that someone cares and will do what they can to be supportive. We need random acts of kindness, especially in this time of crisis, while still practicing social distancing.

 For a few of the resources to help families and communities address and prevent intimate partner violence[domestic violence] and child abuse and/or neglect, see below:

As always, do not hesitate to call 911! STAY SAFE.

Domestic Violence: Do You Know The Warning Signs?

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There I was in the middle of the night, being kicked, punched and beaten by the father of my child, and in an attempt to summon a desperately needed rescue, I somehow made it to s street-facing window and loudly yelled, ” Help!”. It was a quiet block, so I was certain that someone would hear my cry. In fact, not one light from across the street, or next door was turned on. It may have gotten darker rather than brighter because I was positive that my cries were heard. No one came to my rescue; no help would arrive-not even one neighbor. 

Don’t think that I didn’t try to defend myself or fight back, because I did. When the first punch was thrown, I was caught off guard, blindsided. I didn’t expect that at all, but it happened, and became more violent.

When in trouble, women are advised to scream out, “Fire!”. Social research has shown that people are more likely to take action if they hear the word ‘fire’. I wish I had known that then.

But, I am a survivor, though occasionally wrestle with the haunting memories of the past trauma. I also wonder how I could have gotten myself into such a relationship. Why didn’t I recognize the signs BEFORE I became a victim? I was a college graduate-and a pretty intelligent young woman. A degree in psychology didn’t shield me from the destructive nature of domestic violence.


What is Domestic Violence?

Also known as domestic abuse, spousal abuse, dating violence, battering, and more. Domestic violence is sometimes called intimate partner violence. It is essentially when one person in a relationship uses patterns of coercive behaviors to control and exert power over the other.

That control can be through:

  • Emotional abuse and manipulation
  • Physical violence, either once or repeatedly
  • Stalking or monitoring daily activities
  • Controlling the victim’s money or sabotaging their employment
  • Harming or threatening to harm their children
  • Sexual violence

According to the CDC, 62% of female victims and 18% of male victims of intimate partner violence commonly report feeling fearful and having concern for their safety.

If you suspect that domestic violence is happening, it can be difficult to talk about. The National Domestic Violence Hotline has suggestions of what to look for if you are concerned for a friend or family member:

  • Is someone you know always worried that he or she will make their partner angry, or is always fearful about how their partner will react?
  • Is someone you know always making excuses for their partner’s behavior or worried that the partner is extremely jealous or possessive?
  • Have you seen unexplained bruises, marks or injuries? The explanations always seem to center around ‘clumsiness’?
  • Has someone stopped spending time with friends or family?
  • Have you noticed changes in this person’s personality?
  • Does their partner put them down in front of other people?
  • Is this person always ‘anxious’ around their partner?
  • Is there an all of a sudden feeling of ‘isolation’ from others?
  • If you attempt to visit this person’s home, does the partner allow you to gain entrance? Are you told that he or she is ‘busy’ or ‘asleep’, even in the middle of the day?
  • Does the partner seem to ‘lurk’ when you are present? Do you feel as though you, too, are being closely monitored and scrutinized?

Domestic abuse, intimate partner violence[IPV], is all about power and control, as illustrated in the above video detailing the ‘power and control wheel’. It is important to recognize the early signs. Usually before abuse takes on a physical component, the abuse is already verbal and psychological. We want to prevent situations from reaching the stage of violence, because though scars and bruises may heal, the emotional scars may remain for years.

If you know someone who may be in the type of relationships where the aforementioned signs are present, it is important to address it immediately.[The best ways to do so is left for another discussion.] Trust your gut, your instincts, when it feels as though something is not quite right in a relationship.

Offering help is a risky prospect for outsiders and trying to intervene is difficult, but not impossible. If you notice that there are multiple signs of what could be abuse, and they are accompanied by physical signs, you can anonymously report it to professionals who have some authority to investigate and/or intervene safely. Do not attempt to intervene in the presence of the suspected abusive partner. Your own safety may be compromised. But do not stand by in silence either. If this person being battered, is a friend or family[or stranger] be your best self—  call for help. Use your best judgment

Consult with a professional, and seek advice as to what the options are to get help for your friend or family member. It is important that women, in particular, have an advocate in these situations-a safety net. By the time relationships become physically abusive, that person has been beaten down emotionally to the point of feeling no sense of control or power. Accompanying those feelings is fear.

In these situations, there must be someone who understands this and will continue to advocate for that ‘powerless’ person, not coerce, for their health, safety and well-being. Power and control is misused, and one cannot expect the person being abused to be strong or confident enough to be completely objective.

sitting woman in gray long sleeved shirt holding baby s hand in blue long sleeved shirt

If children are involved, it is even more important that someone acts to protect them from the stress of abusive relationships. Children can be traumatized or may even fall victim to abuse, as well.

In order to be proactive and prevent relational violence, it is important to teach girls, young women, to identify the signs of potential violence in relationships. There are behavioral patterns to be mindful of, and women should know what they are and how to recognize them.

My own personal experiences with abuse and domestic violence should not ever be experienced by any women[or man or child], especially with children in that relationship. Abuse can affect anyone regardless of age, race, class, ethnicity, country of origin, etc…. It knows no boundaries.

This highlights the importance of arming women, starting when they are young girls, with the tools and skills to love themselves, know their own worth,  understand their personal boundaries. Teach them to identify the signs and symptoms and behavior patterns that lead to abuses and the indicators of abusive behavior. Do it before they enter intimate relationships.

If they are in this type of relationship already, be prepared to advocate for them, offering your strength, and help to prepare to rescue themselves. Then, locate support groups that will enable them to process their experiences, share with others, and know that they are not alone. Last, do not allow them to feel shame or guilt….just your unconditional love and support. Domestic violence: Know the signs.