Doctors: COVID-19 ‘trapping’ domestic violence victims

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“Violence” is pasted onto a wall by a group of women on a dark street in Paris on Oct. 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu)

TROY, N.Y. (NEWS10)- There’s been much talk about domestic violence and how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting victims of domestic abuse. A group of doctors referred to intimate partner violence and the coronavirus as a “pandemic within a pandemic“, in a recent New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) article.

Unity House in Troy has a 24-hour hotline that victims of domestic abuse can call or text to get help. Specialty Program Director at Unity House, Sarah McGaughnea, said they’ve seen an increase in calls for assistance.

The coronavirus aside, 31.7% of women and 29% of men in New York have been stalked or experienced violence including sexual violence at the hands of an intimate partner in their lifetime, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV).

The problem is that coronavirus precautions, including stay-at-home orders, take away a victim’s available avenues for help. Essentially victims of domestic violence are being “trapped” with abusers with no reprieve, according to McGaughnea and the doctors who wrote the NEJM article.

Domestic-violence hotlines prepared for an increase in demand for services as states enforced these mandates, but many organizations experienced the opposite. In some regions, the number of calls dropped by more than 50%. Experts in the field knew that rates of IPV had not decreased, but rather that victims were unable to safely connect with services. Though restrictions on movement have been lifted in most regions, the pandemic and its effects rage on, and there is widespread agreement that areas that have seen a drop in caseloads are likely to experience a second surge. This pandemic has reinforced important truths: inequities related to social determinants of health are magnified during a crisis, and sheltering in place does not inflict equivalent hardship on all people.

A Pandemic within a Pandemic — Intimate Partner Violence during Covid-19
NEJM

McGaughnea said there may be some misconceptions about the availability of services or because people are fearful of the coronavirus. She wants victims to know Unity House is fully operational and is taking every precaution to keep people in their care safe.

Domestic violence is known to be exacerbated by additional stress. Widespread financial hardship, kids being at home, and health concerns can all cause an already violent situation to escalate, McGaughnea said. She said she expects the holidays to amplify these dangerous situations further.

The phone number for the 24-hour hotline at Unity House is 518-272-2370. Text messages can also be sent to 518-720-6161. A web chat along with more information about domestic violence services is available on the Unity House website.

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