COVID-19 & Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence Isolation: Woman stares out window trapped inside.
'The Pandemic On Top Of An Epidemic'

Joe Loudon • COMBAT Communications Administrator

MONDAY, JULY 27, 2020

It’s a sad fact. Domestic violence increases whenever families spend more time together. 

Spikes, for example, are common in December. The holiday season can take a violent turn in many homes during what’s supposed to be the “happiest time of the year.”

With COVID-19 causing so much misery and forcing families into isolation, a surge in domestic violence was probably inevitable. 

The New York Times reported in April intimate partner violence—“acting like an opportunistic infection, flourishing in the conditions created by the pandemic”—was intensifying throughout the nation. This spring the United Nations officially declared domestic abuse a global crisis.

“We’re not only seeing more abuse, but injuries being inflicted that are more severe.”

More Severe Injuries Being Inflicted

Jackson County and the Kansas City region have not been exempted from either COVID or domestic violence’s spread.

“It’s bad,” states Mary Anne Metheny, CEO of Hope House, which operates a domestic abuse shelter in Independence and a second one in Lee’s Summit. “There are a lot of similarities between what’s happening with child abuse and what we are seeing with domestic violence. There always are. 

“We’re not only seeing more abuse, but injuries being inflicted that are more severe. The level of violence is always terrible and has only gotten worse with the pandemic.” 

31% Increase In Hotline Calls

Scott Mason calls COVID-19 “the pandemic on top of the epidemic.” The Director of Stewardship & Marketing for Rose Brooks stresses, “When you look at how prevalent domestic violence is and already was before COVID-19, you have to call it what it is—an epidemic.”

Rose Brooks also runs an emergency shelter and, like Hope House, offers a variety of other services to domestic violence victims and their families. While the six Kansas City area shelters—four in Missouri, two in Kansas—share a common hotline number (816-468-5463), Rose Brooks and Hope House each have their own crisis lines as well.

“In April, May and June we had a 31% increase in calls to our crisis hotline, compared to the same three months last year,” points out Mason. “A lot of women have been calling just for emotional support. They haven’t been able to get out of the house, see other family or friends, take their children to school activities. They’ve been trapped in the house with their abusers.”

Shelter Space ‘Always An Issue’

Even when shelters operate at full capacity—something not possible due to the virus—“space is always an issue,” according to Metheny. The six KC-area shelters coordinate with one another continually—their common goal being to find an abuse victim safe sanctuary if not in one shelter, then another. Nothing else matters, including county lines and the state border.

“We’re all in this together,” Metheny says. “If we haven’t any opening at Hope House, we see if someone else does. The last thing any of us wants to do is turn anybody away.”

Woman with black eye looks out at the world from behind a window shade

Abusers seek to islolate their victims. The pandemic has made it easy for them.

 ‘Alternative Sheltering’

For Hope House that has meant taking on the expense, like other shelters across America, of using hotel rooms. Rose Brooks has utilized what Mason calls “alternative sheltering.” The alternatives have included accelerating the process of getting some Rose Brooks clients into permanent housing placement programs and even relocating a few with relatives who live in other parts of the country.

“We get 8,000 calls to the hotline a year,” Mason says. “Not every one of the 8,000 results in someone needing to be sheltered. A lot of what we do is provide emotional support, safety planning, help obtaining orders of protection, just assisting someone in determining what’s the next step in getting out of an abusive situation.

“For some that does mean getting out of their house—it’s just too dangerous—and into a shelter.”

Limited Staffing Inside The Shelters

Rose Brooks safely moved residents out of its shelter briefly in order to clean the facility from top to bottom. Hope House consulted with local health departments in March and—in Metheny’s words—“had to radically reduce the number people in our shelter to create more space for social distancing.”

“We had no choice,” Metheny says. “We couldn’t have victims seeking shelter from one dangerous situation only to find themselves in another situation that put their health at risk.”

Rose Brooks has been accepting new clients but continues to limit occupancy in its shelters.

Stop Violence

‘We Have Never Gone Away’

Mason and Metheny both worry rising COVID-19 infection rates may lead to renewed stay-at-home orders and other restrictions that will cut domestic violence victims off from other family members and friends. Abusers tend to try and isolate their victims from the outside world, Metheny says, “And the pandemic has made it easy for them.”

Crisis line callers have told Rose Brooks staff they’ve been confined behind locked doors in their own homes, with their abuser telling them, “It’s because of the pandemic. It’s for your own good.”

Domestic abuse victims, Mason emphasizes, are being encouraged to use Zoom, Facetime or other services to maintain contact—to be heard and seen—by others outside their homes.

“The biggest challenge we have is trying to get the word out to victims that none of us who provide services to them have gone away,” Mason says. “Services are still available to them. When the pandemic hit, the first message they were getting from their abusers is ‘you’re on your own because there’s no one who can help you now.’

“We’ve never gone away. We’ve always been here to help. We’re here to help right now.”

 KC Area Shelter Hotline
 Hope House Crisis Hotline
 Rose Brooks Crisis Hotline
 MOSCA Crisis Hotline
 816-531-0233 • 913-642-0233
 National Domestic Violence Hotline

Child Abuse

 'More Egregious' Abuse

Child Abuse & COVID-19—Two Public Heatlh Crises » MORE