This blog is about domestic violence and may be difficult for some to read. Please consult our resources page if you need to find help. Remember: if you are in immediate danger, always call 911.
In mid-March when stay-at-home orders were announced in New Mexico, many domestic violence advocates warned that this could be a bad development for women who experience abuse at home. Based on statistics from countries around the world that had already gone on lockdown, their predictions weren’t unfounded:
- Hubei province in China reported that domestic violence reports to police tripled in February 2020 compared to 2019
- In Brazil, a drop-in center in Rio de Janeiro reported that it had seen an increase in cases by nearly double over previous months
- The Catalan region in Spain reported a 20 percent increase in calls to its domestic violence helpline
Now that the state is opening back up, we want to know: What were the actual effects of the quarantine on domestic violence statistics in New Mexico? And what can we learn from this to prevent these numbers in the future?
Contributing Factors to Domestic Violence During Quarantine
We know from historical statistics that domestic violence tends to increase over the holidays. This is usually attributed to three main factors:
- People spend more time at home during the holidays, giving abusers more opportunities to interact with their victims.
- Stress from the holidays, especially over money, can increase an abuser’s volatility, making him look for a victim to take his stress out on.
- Abusers are more likely to use alcohol or drugs when they don’t have to go to work, which can increase their likelihood of attacking a victim.
The COVID-19 pandemic presented a similar set-up to a holiday for domestic abusers:
- Stay at home orders would keep abusers and their victims in close proximity
- Many people out of work would be highly stressed and worried about money
- With nowhere to go, many people turned to alcohol and drugs to pass the time
But unlike winter holidays, the pandemic quarantine didn’t have an end-date, and lasted nearly three months. In fact, it’s not even technically over. The added concern of getting sick with a new virus has increased stress levels for everyone. You could say that the pandemic is like a regular winter holiday season on steroids.
Furthermore, because of social distancing requirements, survivors couldn’t necessarily seek in-person help and would have to rely on their mobile phones or computers. Also, shelters needed to cut their capacity requirements to comply with safety regulations.
How the Pandemic Affected DV Numbers in Albuquerque
Unfortunately, Albuquerque did see the predicted spike, with some alarming numbers:
- The police found that call levels remained steady, but that they resulted in more arrests.
- Arrests for domestic violence nearly doubled between March and April.
- The Domestic Violence Resource Center saw an increase of 80 percent to all their services.
- Shelters had to cut capacity by up to 50 percent, and had to work with local hotels to house as many survivors as possible.
- Police also feared that child abuse was likely to be reported because children were at home rather than at school where there are adults likely to recognize and report the abuse.
It’s important to note that some services saw an initial drop in the number of calls or requests for support from survivors. S.A.F.E. House New Mexico reported that their cases initially dropped until several weeks into the quarantine, most likely because victims were afraid to leave due to unknown circumstances around the virus.
What We Can Do about Domestic Violence Going Forward
The biggest takeaways from domestic violence statistics from quarantine so far is that the cycle of violence is sometimes predictable. We know that domestic abuse spikes in high-stress situations when people are spending more time at home. We know that quarantines meet this criteria level. This means that we should all prepare to meet the needs of survivors even more abundantly when these situations arise.
If you are a victim of domestic violence or abuse, the best thing you can do is find the courage to find help or leave. Even in high volume situations, shelters and support systems are open and there to help.
More importantly, those of us who can support survivors should do everything in our power to do so. If you can open your home to a friend during quarantine, do so. Report child abuse when you see it. Call the police if you hear or see signs of abuse.
Also, anyone who is able should give their money and time to domestic violence prevention and healing resources. It may be some time before shelters are ready to accept in-person volunteers, but you can still donate supplies, clothes, or money to help out now. Many helplines have been training individuals to take calls or texts from their homes before the pandemic. And you can always use your voice to advocate for survivors to your local, state, and federal elected leaders.
Overall, the pandemic has been a tough time for survivors of domestic violence. But there are still ways we can help, and work to prevent a similar spike next time.
Please visit my resources page for a list of local domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy groups that you can work with today.