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Op-ed: Uptick in domestic violence amid Covid-19 isolation

Cassandra Poggi, victim of domestic violence and advocate for those in the midst of domestic violence, walks her housemates dogs while obeying the stay-at-home orders issued by Governor Gavin Newsom during a world-wide coronavirus outbreak in San Francisco, California Wednesday March 25, 2020.
Melina Mara | The Washington Post | Getty Images

As people navigate the new world, living with coronavirus, divorce rates and domestic violence cases are spiking in the U.S. With October being Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it is a fitting time to study the implications the coronavirus pandemic is having on relationships and couples. With increased stress comes increased conflict, and we are certainly seeing this play out in the extreme.

According to data collected by Legal Templates, the number of people looking into divorce was 34% higher from March through June 2020 compared to those same months in 2019. During quarantine, interest in separation peaked on April 13, just about 2-3 weeks after lockdowns began in many states.

Sadly, along with rising divorce rates, we are also seeing a sharp increase in domestic violence. A Women's Aid report found that 61% of women living with their abusers in the United Kingdom reported abuse that had worsened during lockdown. A Massachusetts hospital found a significant year-over-year jump in intimate partner violence cases who sought emergency care during the Covid-19 pandemic's first few weeks. Unsurprisingly, nearly all the victims were women.

Matrimonial attorney, Jacqueline Harounian, states that "in the New York area, it is being widely reported that there has been a sharp increase in use of substances and alcohol, as well as a rise in mental health issues, including anxiety and depression. Combined with economic uncertainty, stress from remote schooling and remote working, it is no wonder that family and marital relationships are deteriorating behind closed doors. Parents are experiencing conflict, whether they are married, separated or divorced. In a growing number of cases, there is domestic assault."

The stress factor

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown our daily lives up in the air, forcing big decisions and life changes. With schools closed and children partaking in remote learning, parents have been forced into increased involvement in childcare, especially during the day when they might also be working from home. Many people are relocating. Soon, people will have to decide whether or not they are comfortable taking the rushed-through coronavirus vaccine, and if not yet, when? These major life decisions may be bringing to light a difference in parenting styles or values, at large. Some couples may come to find that they are not quite on the same page, leading to marital stress and increased likelihood of conflict.

Isolationism takes a toll

With schools, offices, and places of worship closed or open only in a limited capacity in many areas, the home is quickly becoming the center of our universe. Increased time in our homes is leading to increased isolation, both physically and socially. Many office jobs are only offering work-from-home options for the foreseeable future. Families are relocating out of major cities to find more affordable housing or a larger living space. The housing market is booming in suburban areas, especially for single family homes. According to a report by Realtor.com, average housing prices were up 12.9% this summer compared to last summer. Similarly, home improvement increased drastically, leading to a shortage of lumber. Home Depot recently posted its strongest quarterly sales growth in 20 years.

This all points to less opportunity to see friends, acquaintances, or even strangers. In situations of domestic abuse, this could be dangerous, leaving the victim with less opportunity to ask someone for help, in person.

Economic uncertainty a trigger point

At their highest, jobless claims during the pandemic reached nearly 7 million. Though claims have since decreased, substantially, they remain higher than they were at their peak during the Great Recession in 2009. There has been significant government support, but many people claim not nearly enough has been done to help working Americans, and another stimulus bill is currently being debated by the Senate. This economic uncertainty is contributing to increased stock market volatility.

These factors have led to an increase in depression, alcoholism, violence, and shootings. In times of uncertainty, abusive individuals turn to violence as a tool to maintain power and control.

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"Even once stable households are showing the strain of prolonged stress and quarantine. Most American individuals and families are not used to spending so much time together in close quarters. In New York, people across socioeconomic groups -- including the affluent -- are finding that apartment living is sometimes not conducive to living, working and schooling peacefully in one residence. The uncertainty, lack of routine and poor coping skills are causing increased domestic violence everywhere you look," Harounian finds.

How can victims of domestic abuse protect themselves, financially?

Get a team. Find a therapist, counselor, or support group where you can share your story and find support to leave. Make sure that this person is a trained domestic violence advocate.

Define your options. Make a list of options, including living with a friend or family member, renting an apartment in a friend's name or investigating a safe housing option in your community. Be sure to know your legal options and have protection. You will want to understand your options regarding separation, divorce and a restraining order.

Get your finances in order. A main reason why women choose to stay in an abusive relationship is financial dependence.

In a healthy relationship, each partner should have equal control, education and awareness over their finances in order to make the wisest financial decisions for themselves, their relationship and their family. It is important to make a conscious effort to support our loved ones who may be in financially abusive relationships, and raise awareness about this issue.

Experts are bracing for this trend to worsen over the next several months. People will be indoors even more now that seasons have changed and infection rates are rising. If you are the victim of abuse or know someone who is, please reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or visit their website at www.thehotline.org.

—By Stacy Francis, CFP, president and CEO of Francis Financial

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