Half of those who called into or visited the National Sexual Assault Hotline in March were minors. This is the first time minors have made up such a high percentage of the callers.
Teachers and social workers who conduct home visits or work with kids are typically the ones to spot and report abuse, but with teachers unable to be with their students, these reports are down. Social workers report screaming in the background of home check-ins. Domestic violence is up — and it’s not only happening to those other families, the ones we read abou across town. It’s happening in homes close to us as well.
In Los Angeles, most reported instances of child abuse — typically up to a third of the total cases, since most are never reported — come through calls to Children and Family Services. According to Bobby Cagle, the chief of that organization, calls were down from about 1,000 each day to a mere 400. This is not because the abuse isn’t happening, but because teachers aren’t seeing it and calling it in. Oregon saw a 72 percent decrease in new cases, while doctors reported an increase in more severe types of abuse.
Reports like these are coming in across the country. With everyone cooped up inside, the abuse that was present before doesn’t go away; it is instead exacerbated. Rates of domestic violence have also risen in Canada. “What the pandemic has done with the self-isolation measures, with the closure of some of the support systems, is create a powder keg,” said Canada’s minister for women and gender equality, Maryam Monsef, to CBC News.
COVID-19 Is the Perfect Storm for Domestic Violence
For already-struggling families living paycheck to paycheck, the additional financial stress can create a toxic soup of emotional volatility. Lines for food pantries have been lengthening, and as these months of lockdown drag on, with increasing unemployment and instability, nerves at home fray.
Being a parent during the best of times can be a trial for many, but these added stressors are enough to make anyone crack. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, there are more than 10 million victims of intimate partner violence every year in the United States, and the rates of domestic violence increased during the 2008 economic downturn.
Data also reveals “a strong inverse relationship between financial status and a woman’s risk of DV victimization,” and that many of those who suffer at the hands of their partners reach out for help through their social networks and families, which is much harder to do while social distancing.
We know how easy it can be to take out our anger on the people we love most, our children and spouses, who press all our buttons and are so much less likely to abandon us just because we behave awfully. As restrictions ease and we begin to face the new reality of high unemployment, shuttered businesses, and lives upended, parents must be careful not to let their worst selves out, but stay kind to their children.
Letting your worst self extinguish your best intentions of kindness, gentleness, and compassion is easier than anyone wants to admit. Saying we are all capable of perpetrating abuse may seem barbaric, but we are all human, prone to the same trials and traits. We know that just as we are all capable of the best aspects of humanity, we are capable of the worst, and we neglect this fact at our peril.
Physical violence and emotional violence are often thought of differently, but the possibility exists for both in newly unstable homes, where parents aren’t working, kids aren’t in school, privacy is hard to come by, and everyone is frustrated and freaked out.
Kids who may have been well-behaved before are now acting out. Moms who used to have a few moments of peace after everyone left the house for the day now find their routines destroyed. Dads who are used to providing and are now without work may feel helpless. If we aren’t careful, domestic violence can surge under these conditions.
Let Love Guide You
If you have a tendency toward anger, or if you grew up in a household where violence was the norm, it can be really hard not to succumb to the impulse to lash out. Even as the anger rises, even as your hand lifts to strike, you know it’s not the right thing to do — it’s not the thing we want to do. We don’t want to hurt the people we love most.
It may seem odd to talk about the most severe kinds of physical abuse against children in these softer terms. While there are monsters out there, truly horrifying people who intentionally hurt others, most abusers are not those people. Most parents love their kids, don’t want to hurt them, and find that their anger — fueled by frustration, insecurity, instability, and fear — takes over, and they lash out.
Controlling this beast of violence to protect those we love is possible. Kids can drive us crazy. They’re locked inside just like we are, and they don’t understand our stress level — or not to eat the ingredients for the next seven days’ meals. Spouses are exceptionally talented at getting under our skin, critiquing us, pointing out flaws, or simply being flawed themselves. It’s hard not to freak out.
Take a breath.
Take a literal step back.
Put the word “love” in the front of your mind.
You love this person who is pissing you the eff off.
You love this person.
To your wife, to your husband, to your child, calmly, softly say, “I love you. I am losing my grip. This time is insane. I can’t cope. I’m going to back away.”
Look at them with love.
If their behavior is driving you to hurt them, the best thing to do is remove yourself from the situation.
Quarantine makes finding personal space difficult. Some of us live in spaces without enough doors to close, making it even more essential to find a home in your head, a calm place where you know you’re OK and capable. Regroup and realize you can handle this because you are a solid and reasonable human being who wants the best for your family.
Your kids need you, even when they drive you bats, scribble on the walls, hit you with toys, or use up the last diaper. Pick up the little ones instead of freaking out, and tell them you love them. Tell your spouse or partner as much as you can — when you wake up, when they spill coffee grounds outside the bin, when they yell at you for your inadequacies — just say it, and hear it.
As you say it to them, you say it to yourself. Remember to let love guide you.