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Coronavirus isolation raises concerns for domestic violence survivors, experts say

It can be “devastating” for people who have to shelter somewhere unsafe.
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As people across the U.S. are told to stay home because of the coronavirus pandemic, domestic violence experts warn the isolation could be “devastating” for survivors forced to shelter somewhere unsafe.

“We know social isolation can really have devastating impacts on the safety, health and wellbeing of victims,” said Dr. Amanda Stylianou, a domestic violence expert at Rutgers University.

“Being able to wake up in the morning to leave their home to go to safe schools, workplaces, to visit family and neighbors is really critical and is a really important protective factor for them in a time where that protective factor is gone,” she said.

Katie Ray-Jones, CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, said it was an "incredibly distressing" time for survivors, and her group had already heard ways the outbreak was impacting victims.

She said she heard from survivors of abusers who threatened to kick them out of the house, who made them wash their hands until they were "raw and bleeding" and abusers who made them stay home from work.

Ray-Jones encouraged survivors to call the hotline to discuss their unique situation and physical and mental safety planning.

With the number of coronavirus cases around the U.S. growing and states taking stricter control measures, Stylianou said the virus has now kept families in homes in a time “when stress is high and likely to cause more anger and frustration even in families without abuse.” There are more than 15,000 cases of coronavirus across the U.S. with 201 deaths as of Friday.

About one in four women and one in seven men have experienced severe physical violence from an intimate partner, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Experts said those experiencing domestic violence have critical resources to support them.

“There are still volunteers across the country sitting at phones and computers waiting for them to reach out who deeply care about their safety and wellbeing,” Stylianou said.

Ruth Glenn, CEO of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said when an abuser has more access to a survivor, it “increases their ability to control and manipulate and act out whatever their abuse is.”

Glenn and Stylianou encouraged people experiencing domestic violence to reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which has provided 24-hour, year-round support since 1996 for individuals affected by relationship abuse.

The hotline is confidential, anonymous and free and helps victims come up with a safety plan to escape abuse. It also connects them with area resources for legal problems and points to shelters that can offer them housing.

Experts also encouraged survivors to reach out to their local domestic violence program.

While times are scary for many, Glenn said, survivors of domestic violence are not alone.

“They’ve made it this far figuring out ways to say safe,” she said. “You’ve made it this far and as dark as it feels for all of us, there is hope.'

If you or someone you know is affected by domestic violence, get help at or by calling 1-800-799-SAFE.