At the cornerstone of the new year, the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic has taken the world by storm, claiming millions of victims worldwide and unsettling even the most powerful global institutions. President Donald Trump has dubbed it “The Invisible Enemy,” rhetoric the media just couldn’t resist. A Washington Post headline made rapid rounds with “Trump: Coronavirus ‘is an invisible, horrible enemy.’”
But while this invisible enemy runs rampant in our streets, something just as sinister lurks behind the closed doors of millions of American homes. Mounting data suggests that one unintended consequence of quarantine is a rise in domestic abuse and a surge in mental health crises, with no escape insight for victims.
A New York Times article titled “A New Covid-19 Crisis: Domestic Abuse Rises Worldwide” cites Bristol University sociologist Dr. Marianne Hester, who confi rmed that “there was every reason to believe that the restrictions imposed to keep the virus from spreading would have such an effect.” With families on lockdown and economic tensions rising, abuse hotlines are ringing at unparalleled rates, while the government scrambles to handle a problem they failed to anticipate.
Hindering their response are signifi cant alterations to the defi nition of domestic violence as prescribed in the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Offi ce on Violence Against Women in January. The new defi nition brushes aside emotional and psychological abuse by casting the issue as a purely criminal concern, dismissing critical components that characterize domestic violence – behaviors that preempt verbal harassment, behavioral patterns of abusiveness and power dynamics – were carelessly dismissed. According to the new defi nition, only physical altercations that constitute a misdemeanor or a felony are classified as domestic violence.
In other words, a woman who has suffered continuous berating, excessive monitoring, has been denied access to basic fi nancial assistance and has nearly been driven to suicide does not have the right to claim she is domestically abused. Worse, she is not a candidate for legal protections or funded support. That the DOJ Office of Violence Against Women, an offi ce whose sole function is to provide suffi cient funding and administer solutions to the problem of domestic violence, would redefi ne domestic abuse in this way refl ects a reckless lack of empathy by the government, bolstering a global rise in domestic violence.
A contributing factor to the rise in domestic violence is a corresponding exacerbation of mental illnesses, which have claimed the lives of approximately 8 million Americans each year, caused by the stress of quarantine isolation. The Orange County Register reports increases in the number of Suicide Help calls made by those suffering from economic stress, isolation and COVID-19 anxiety. The county’s mental health helpline, has only 12 staff members in addition to eight additional clinicians and some work- at-home staff members to handle the spike in call volumes.
Depression and mental health concerns have disproportionately impacted teenagers, reeling from the cancellation of school events and lacking consistent support from friends and religious groups. Reports of verbal and emotional child abuse are increasing as family relationships undergo strain, particularly for LGBTQ teens. The Trevor Project reports the number of teens who have reached out to their crisis service programs have doubled since the pandemic began, naming the coronavirus as comprising 25% of conversations with LGBTQ youth. Missing the security of sheltered school groups and supportive social connections, many students are experiencing an increase in the risk of self-harm and suicide.
It may be easy for those of us whose home is safe, peaceful and pleasant through even the most pressing times. However, for victims of domestic abuse, being locked inside with an abuser whose mounting frustrations may result in unpredictable attacks, persisting is not easy. For those without emotional support who are battling a lonely war against their mental health, persisting is not easy.
During difficult times, Northwood students must band together for the wellbeing of the community, nation and world. Checking in with friends consistently, starting community initiatives and increasing awareness about mental health are all ways to lower the burden of contraction and create positive change. Educational discussions on the realities of mental health and domestic violence should spur an important ideological shift in students, prompting us to fulfi ll our vital role as community members to rally for those suffering behind closed doors. Rally against the “invisible enemy.”
If you or a friend are in need, IUSD has implemented the Speak Up, We Care campaign prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resources available at IUSD.org.