The pandemic has led to many people to stay at home for extended periods of time. For people who live with a partner, sometimes this extra, increasingly isolated time at home has increased stress. And while staying home and isolating might mean protection from the coronavirus, it has also led to an increase in intimate partner violence. Even if you live in a place where you are now free to move around, you may be working remotely, spending more time at home, or needing to isolate with a partner if you’ve been exposed to or tested positive for COVID-19.
Learn how to tell an unsafe relationship if you’re feeling off
Sometimes it can be difficult to recognize that you or someone you love may be in trouble due to an unsafe relationship. Abusive behaviors don’t usually appear overnight — they often develop over time. And it’s common for an abuser to seem like a great partner at the start of a relationship. There are many different forms of abuse: physical, emotional, sexual/coercion, reproductive, financial, and digital. If you answer yes to any of the questions below, you may be experiencing an abusive relationship:
- Does your partner get very jealous or controlling?
- Does your partner try to keep you away from or control your time with your family or friends?
- Does your partner say insulting things to you or threaten you?
- Are you afraid to disagree with your partner because they might hurt you or your family members?
- Has your partner ever hit, kicked, pushed or otherwise physically hurt you?
- Does your partner force or coerce you to have sex or are they controlling or denying you access to birth control?
The organization One Love also has specific examples of what unhealthy relationships might look like during the pandemic. These are important red flags to be aware of. If you think you may be experiencing an unhealthy or abusive relationship, know that this isn’t your fault and you’re not alone. According to Futures Without Violence, 1 in 4 women in the U.S. have experienced violence by a partner at some point in their lives.
Ways to stay safe
If you’re in an abusive relationship and feeling unsafe, create a plan to get out of it. Not everyone’s plan will look the same because no one’s situation is the same. The state of the pandemic could certainly impact your plan as you consider safety precautions, social distancing, and public health guidelines related to the coronavirus. As you think about what’s right for you, remember that you don’t have to do anything that you aren’t comfortable with right now, but taking small steps now can make your plan feel that much more possible when you’re ready or need to to take further action.
Some suggestions for your potential safety plan
- Identify people you trust (at least two is best) who you can contact with a code word to let them know you need help and plan for what they’ll do if you contact them in this way.
- If there is an argument, move to the safest room in the house. Ideally, this would be a room with no weapons and with a way for you to leave the building. If possible, try to avoid stairs and stay on the first floor of the building you’re in.
- If you’re a parent, don’t run to where your children are, as your partner may hurt them as well. Also, plan a code word to signal to them that they should get help or leave the house.
- If violence is unavoidable, make yourself a small target. Dive into a corner and curl up into a ball with your face protected and arms around each side of your head, fingers entwined.
- If possible, have a phone accessible at all times and know what numbers to call for help. Know where the nearest public phone is located. Know the phone number to your local shelter. If your life is in danger, call 9-1-1.
- Create an exit plan ahead of time with someone who you trust and who can support you if you need to get out of your home in a hurry. Can you stay with a loved one — whether friend or family — if necessary?
- Pack an emergency bag with necessities that you can easily grab if you do need to leave home, like clothes, medications, copies of important documents, cash, a pay-as-you-go cell phone, an extra set of keys, and anything else you would need.
- Share copies (whether physical copies or pictures) of any important documents with a trusted loved one — anything else that you would need or want to have access to if you had to leave home quickly. Use a method of sharing these documents that’s safest for your particular situation and be mindful of sending anything via phone or computer if your abuser could find it.
- Try to create a peaceful space for yourself in your home, if it’s safe for you to do so. You may want to draw pictures of a more peaceful place or write positive affirmations and then hang them up where you can see them — anything that can help you visualize a more peaceful environment and remind you that you are worthy. If you’re a parent, you could even do this with your children.
For more detailed safety plans or more information, go to https://www.thehotline.org/help/path-to-safety/.
Seek help or support if you need it
You don’t need to do any of this on your own. If you or someone you know ever feels unsafe in a relationship, know that there is help. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 by phone, text, or live chat:
- To reach them by phone, call 1-800-799-7233
- If you are unable to speak safely, you can visit their website and click the “Chat Now” button for a live chat
- You can also access their text line by texting “LOVEIS” to 22522
You can also find more detailed information about safety plans at their website too.
You deserve to be safe
It’s never your fault when someone chooses to be abusive to you, and it has no reflection on the value you have as a person. Know that you’re not alone and help is available to you. And never forget that you are worthy, and you deserve to be safe.
- “Intimate Partner Violence and Sexual Violence Victimization Assessment Instruments for Use in Healthcare Settings.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Department of Health and Human Services, 2007. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/ipv/ipvandsvscreening.pdf.
- ‘What Unhealthy Relationships Look Like During COVID-19.” One Love. One Love Foundation. Retrieved May 20 2020. https://www.joinonelove.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Unhealthy-Signs-during-COVID-19-1.pdf
- “Safety planning — COVID-19: A guide for survivors of domestic violence.” Sanctuary for Families. Sanctuary for Families. Retrieved May 20 2020. https://sanctuaryforfamilies.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Safety-Plan-Flyer.pdf.
- “What is a safety plan?” National Domestic Violence Hotline. National Domestic Violence Hotline. Retrieved May 20 2020. https://www.thehotline.org/help/path-to-safety/.