Domestic Violence and COVID-19

A worldwide pandemic has hit. Some governments are suggesting everyone remain inside their homes, others are enforcing it. If you are not already quarantined, physical  distancing is encouraged. Workplaces are closed, schools are closed, and homes - if you have one - are considered the safest place you can be. 

But what about the people whose homes are the least safe place to be? The people whose moments of being outside of the home - even temporarily - are simultaneously their chances of escape or break from abuse? Absence can be their lifeline. An increased amount of time spent together in the household with one’s abuser leads to more violence. For victims of domestic violence, COVID-19 is an additional threat.

Meanwhile, hospitals are overcrowded due to the pandemic, shelters - in some places - are shut down to prevent the spread of the virus, and friends, community members, and even some crucial service providers are limited to contact via the phone or internet. At the same time, the opportunity to reach out to hotlines, friends, or therapists can be limited for people in abusive homes due to a lack of alone time. While exposure to abuse is heightened, access to support is reduced. 

Domestic and family violence is a key problem facing LGBTIQ people globally. Due to predominantly negative societal opinions, deeply engrained gender norms which LGBTIQ people challenge by our very being, and criminalization of same-sex relations in many parts of the world, we face violence even at the hands of our families seeking to change or repress our identities. 

Grace Poore, OutRight’s Regional Program Coordinator for Asia has seen the impacts of this firsthand. “I used to work on a national domestic violence hotline in the U.S. Every year, there was a spike in hotline calls from women during and immediately after Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays because abusers were spending more time with their partners and families - so there were more opportunities for them to use violence, more opportunities for verbal rage to escalate to physical violence, and fewer opportunities for victims to escape.” 

While domestic abuse typically refers to abuse from a partner or spouse, its definition includes any violent or aggressive behavior within the home. LGBTIQ people who face discrimination from family members due to our actual or perceived gender identity and/or sexual orientation are also at higher risk of abuse during this time. 

As Ging Cristobal, Project Coordinator of Asia and Pacific Islands, points out, “Home quarantine during the COVID-19 health crisis increases feelings of anxiety, fear, discomfort, confusion, and isolation. This can be overwhelming. These feelings are heightened when one is forced to be in a confined space with family members who are unsupportive of our well-being because we identify as LGBTIQ. This includes LGBTIQ people who are in a relationship.”

Abusive partners in LGBTIQ relationships are able to use societal factors relating to their partners’ identity to reinforce power and control over them. Threats of outing their partner or using their identity as a justification of abuse are two of the tactics partners use to maintain control.

In addition, LGBTIQ people face disproportionate barriers in getting protection. “Gender based violence continues to be a major problem for the Caribbean LGBTIQ community,” said Kennedy Carrillo, Regional Sexual and Development expert at OutRight. “Lack of supportive legislative frameworks combined with a political climate that is antagonistic towards the community discourages access to essential services from the police and healthcare. In addition, many cases go unreported or fall through the cracks on their way to seeking justice.”

“In times of crisis, access to services are even more restricted, while violence itself may increase due to long periods of time spent in confined spaces without an opportunity to leave,” Carrillo said. “Such conditions significantly compound the vulnerability of already vulnerable LGBTIQ communities.”

Jean Chong, OutRight’s Field Coordinator based in Singapore, emphasized these barriers. “If infected, many LGBTIQ persons are unwilling to seek out testing for fear of being outed or facing discriminatory or insensitive health care officials. Likewise, there are shrinking community resources and services available to take care of LGBT victims of family violence because of COVID-19’s burden on public healthcare. Victims of family violence who do run away from home find themselves at the mercy of the state if cities are being shut down and laws are being used to punish those who do not obey those rules.” 

Marginalized communities are disproportionately vulnerable during crises like COVID-19. Check in on your friends, family, and neighbors - if you can, however you can.