The pandemic created a “perfect storm” for Black women at risk of domestic violence

Being able to work remotely at her job at the onset of the covid-19 pandemic made the transition easier. She got an apartment and he moved in, and she hoped for the best. But he became physically abusive a few weeks in and then forbade her from setting foot outside. He’d say it was to protect her and their unborn child from covid. With no friends or close family nearby for support, she suffered in silence, her partner watching her every move. Oftentimes her only refuge was hiding out in the small walk-in closet in their bedroom.

“I took naps in the closet. I cried in the closet,” Davis tearfully recalls. “I tried to kill myself in the closet.”

Davis suspects her abuser’s challenges predated their relationship. But she believes the stresses of the pandemic exacerbated them. And she suspects those circumstances affected her decision-making too. “If there was not a pandemic going on, I would have left,” she says. “I definitely would have left.” 

Covid seems to have made things worse for many women experiencing violence at home. Data on domestic violence during the pandemic is hard to come by—especially since cases often go unreported. But anti-domestic-violence advocates point to dramatic increases in calls to shelters and support groups. 

“We will see the fallout of the hidden abuse for years to come.”

Kandee Lewis

Many care workers see indications that this increase in domestic violence seems to have disproportionately affected Black women like Davis. The health and financial challenges of the pandemic, which also disproportionately affected Black women, likely made the situation worse by creating a pressure cooker of stressors related to health and housing, employment, and financial insecurity.

Jacqueline Willett, a licensed clinical social worker, describes the pandemic as a “perfect storm” that left many women, including Black women, feeling trapped in their homes, unable to escape their abusers. “A lot of folks have been made to stay or remain in the home with folks who are violating them,” says Willett, who until earlier this year served as intake and well-being coordinator for Coburn Place in Indianapolis, which offers transitional housing and other support for domestic violence survivors. 

It was difficult to seek and find support, especially in the early days of the pandemic. Many women were afraid of contracting covid, says Kandee Lewis, CEO of Positive Results Center, a nonprofit in Gardena, California, that focuses on preventing domestic violence and sexual assault. And in some cases there was nowhere for them to go. “Because isolation orders were in place, there were many doors closed to victims,” she says. “We know the violence continued, in some cases escalating.” 

As the pandemic continued, some organizations found ways to use technology to safely reach people stuck at home. Others expanded their capacity or created new services, including apps and secure messaging channels, in response to special needs that emerged during the pandemic.

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