This year’s COVID-19 pandemic has caused many domestic partners and families to spend more time at home together, whether one has a desire to or not. As a result, tensions and emotions are high for many due to a variety of stressors related to the virus and resulting uncontrollable circumstances. According to recent studies, domestic abuse cases have skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic as a result. While it’s unusual for a nonviolent individual to become violent, those who have a history of violence are more likely to engage in forms of domestic abuse because of higher stress levels and a lack of interaction with those outside of the household.
What Is Domestic Abuse?
Domestic abuse occurs more often than many may think and has evolved to be one of the top health concerns in the United States today. Minnesota’s legal definition of domestic abuse covers a wide breadth of domestic relationships, including but not limited to, romantic relationships, parent-child relationships, blood relatives, and roommates. For the purposes of obtaining an Order for Protection (“OFP”) in Minnesota, the legal definition of domestic abuse pertains to (1) physical harm, bodily injury, or assault; (2) the infliction of fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, or assault; or (3) terroristic threats, criminal sexual conduct, or interference with an emergency call. However, abuse can appear in a variety of forms. Relationship abuse (also known as Intimate Partner Violence) is a common form of domestic abuse, is defined as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that one partner utilizes to gain or uphold control over an intimate partner. Common types of relationship abuse include:
- Emotional: A victim experiencing emotional abuse experiences damage to their self-worth due to the abuser belittling their abilities, calling names, humiliating, and more.
- Psychological: An abuser may have a desire to intimidate the victim, which is psychological abuse. This form of domestic abuse can appear in the form of “mind games,” isolation from loved ones, and even threatening physical harm to themselves or surrounding individuals.
- Financial or Economic: At times, an abuser attempts to make the victim financially dependent by limiting what the individual can or cannot do. The abuser may withhold access to money, forbid school or work attendance, and implement full control over financial resources.
- Physical: Most commonly, physical abuse occurs in an attempt for one partner to gain control over the other through physical acts such as grabbing, hitting, or denying medical care.
- Sexual: A partner is forced by another partner to participate in a sex act without consent. Sexual abuse can consist of sexual insults, accusations of cheating, and other sexual activities.
- Stalking: The abuser intends to harass, annoy, or terrorize the victim with stalking. The behavior often serves no legitimate purpose and can include repeated telephone calls, frequent visits to places of work or home, unwanted mail, and more.
The Impact of COVID-19
Cohabiting couples and families have been required to spend more time together at home due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Many throughout the United States have been placed at a financial disadvantage due to job loss, decreased salaries, and many other factors. Whether being in close proximity for extended periods or navigating a new financial burden, stress levels have heightened, increasing the likelihood of spousal abuse and other forms of domestic violence.
Governors throughout the country placed stay-at-home orders on communities to help minimize the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Many cities were placed in extensive lockdowns at the start of the year, with limitations relaxing toward the summer. Unfortunately, as the colder months approached, there was concern that a much larger outbreak would take place, resulting in stay-at-home orders being reactivated. Stay-at-home orders limit how often individuals leave their homes and the establishments they can visit upon doing so.
Many parental figures have been given the opportunity to work remotely if their position isn’t considered essential. However, many schools are operating remotely or have implemented flex schedules for students. While each of these limitations may seem minimal, families in every state have been forced to adapt to an unfamiliar living routine. Parental figures are likely to feel more crowded and on edge to adequately complete their workday with new at-home distractions. Children and teens are isolated from friends and cannot participate in the extracurricular activities they once enjoyed. Because of these sudden changes, family arguments have been more likely to occur, and previously abusive individuals may become more violent because of these added stressors.
Emotions are high for many throughout the United States for fear of contracting COVID-19, passing it onto a loved one, and not seeing extended family and friends in person. These stressors and financial strain have resulted in many of-age household members consuming more alcohol during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the past, the World Health Organization (WHO) has identified a strong correlation between alcohol and violence as alcohol can impair thinking and self-control if copious amounts are consumed. Therefore, with alcohol consumption rising, an influx of domestic abuse altercations has occurred.
It’s Time to Act
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many victims to feel they have no way out of domestic abuse situations as seeking medical help or support services may place the victim at a higher risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus. It’s also common for these individuals to feel that help isn’t available due to state-wide shutdowns and limitations. However, it’s never too late to begin taking action, whether that’s seeking help from a professional or filing for divorce from an abusive spouse. Regular check-ins should be completed if abuse is suspected, either with oneself or a loved one. There are many resources available, and numerous establishments have remained open to help combat and further prevent domestic abuse. If domestic abuse is occurring in one’s home, it’s vital to remember the following:
- No one is alone – domestic abuse occurs more often than many believe
- Seeking help should never feel incorrect
- If an injury occurs, medical treatment should be sought immediately
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be contacted 24/7 by phone, email, and text
- Those involved in any form of domestic partnership should have a safety plan developed
Seek Guidance From a Professional
Domestic abuse is a stressful and emotionally taxing occurrence for anyone to overcome, but the journey is often far from over after removing oneself from the situation. It’s encouraged to seek assistance from an experienced domestic abuse attorney, so steps can be taken to prevent abuse in the future. These steps may consist of building a case against the abuser, filing for an order for protection (OFP), and placing limitations on custody and visitation rights. No matter the severity of domestic abuse occurring, seeking help early on is a priority.
This article contains general legal information and does not provide legal advice. For legal advice, please contact M. Sue Wilson Law Offices directly.