Domestic violence and emotional abuse is a tremendous and common problem in Colorado and around the country. It is even more of a problem in these trying times. According to recent studies, as many as 1 in 3 women and 1 in 10 men over the age of 18 experience domestic violence. The term “domestic violence” is extremely broad and includes many behaviors and types of abuse intended to gain power and control over another individual, often a current or former intimate partner.
On March 25, 2020, Colorado began requiring its citizens to “stay at home” as part of a response to COVID-19. The order was initially supposed to end on April 11 and has now been extended to April 26. The orders may even be further extended if the crisis continues. While these efforts are necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to flatten the curve, the strain placed on domestic violence victims may be untenable as victims are being forced to stay home with their abusers.
Domestic violence can take many forms and includes physical abuse, sexual violence, stalking, and psychological aggression (implemented in ways to exert control over the victim). As COVID-19 continues to spread, so do incidents and reports of domestic violence. One Chinese province saw triple the number of calls during the lockdown, and surges have been seen in Brazil, Italy, and Germany. Other shocking statistics include:
- An 18% increase in domestic violence calls in Spain in the first two weeks of lockdown;
- A 30% increase in domestic violence reports in France since lockdown;
- A 14.6% increase in domestic violence calls in Chicago compared to the same time in April last year; and,
- Reports of 12-22% increases in domestic violence calls in Boston, Los Angeles, and Dallas.
This increase in domestic violence is not unexpected as crises are ripe for increased incidents of domestic violence. In fact, domestic violence often occurs after natural disasters, economic crises, and disease outbreaks. Colorado will undoubtedly not be an exception to this increase in domestic violence.
Resources and Evolving Information
Stay-at-home orders allow for essential businesses to continue to operate on a scaled-back basis, which increases the risk of domestic violence to victims at the outset. These victims are best able to leave their abusers when they have reasons and the ability to leave the house. If victims cannot escape an abusive relationship, even temporarily, then their safety is at risk. Furthermore, if both parties are at home, it is difficult for the victim to make phone calls or text friends or organizations covertly.
However, resources are still available to victims. Shelters remain open. While Courts are operating on a limited basis, the Colorado Chief Justice issued orders specifically stating that Courts may not suspend protection order hearings. Police departments across Colorado are also limiting police officers responding to low-level offenses. For example, Denver and Aurora are encouraging people to report crimes online, including reporting domestic violence, to the extent that they do not need immediate assistance. However, DV calls are not considered low level, and police departments are obligated to respond under the stay-at-home orders in effect.
If and when you call the police, you should emphasize and describe the danger that you are in. If it has occurred, explain that there has been physical or sexual violence and you fear that it will escalate. If you need assistance in finding resources available to you, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline listed at the top of this article. They have people available 24/7 to direct you to local resources.
Make a Domestic Violence Safety Plan
A safety plan can cover all stages of an abusive relationship, including staying safe while in the relationship and for making a plan to get out of one. Because COVID-19 has made leaving your house more difficult, escaping an abusive relationship can be challenging. To ensure your safety, make a safety plan in the event things escalate.
Protect Your Cell Phone, Laptop, Tablet, and Other Technology
Perpetrators of domestic violence often attempt to gain or demand access to their victim’s phones or computers. If you are looking at DV information online, use “incognito mode” to access those websites and erase your browsing history. Try to also use separate desktops to allow you to move from websites regarding DV to an innocuous screen should your abuser enter the room.
Change your passwords to your accounts, and consider limiting use of fingerprint or facial recognition software to access your phone. If you have a numeric password, your phone cannot be access while you are sleeping. Change the names of people or organizations with whom you are texting to people that your abuser won’t care to read. If you feel you need to erase text messages or emails, make sure you do so across all of your devices (in fact, limit devices that sync to your phone so that you don’t forget to erase messages as needed). Finally, check your phone and computer for any unknown applications, as those may be key logging software that have been installed without your knowledge.
Find Reasons to Leave the House
Now more than ever, it is imperative that you come up with plausible reasons to leave the house at different times on different days. Walk the dog more often. Take up running or another activity that requires you to be outside. Volunteer to do the errands that take you out of the home during quarantine. Find reasons to get away so that you can make calls to National Domestic Violence Hotline or text a friend when you’re feeling unsafe.
Tell Someone Local About Your Situation
It may seem impossible, but you must let someone know what is going on. Try to tell someone you speak to regularly so that reaching out to them won’t arouse suspicion. This could be a friend, a neighbor, or a co-worker. It may feel like it is impossible to speak to someone, but you must do so. Try to tell them in a way that cannot be traced, which may require face-to-face interaction or a phone call. Avoid putting things in writing as much as possible. Pick a safe word or phrase with this person, so that you can text them in an innocuous way. It can be something as simple as “I think we need to schedule a meeting ASAP.” Or “do you have extra flour?”
Make a Safe Area in Your House
Try to put away all possible weapons in the house, but if that is not possible, pick an area of your home where you are safest. Preferably, this area will have no potential weapons, can be locked, and allows you to call or text a friend. If you have children, it may feel natural to run to protect them if violence is escalating, but doing so may result in the abuser turning their abuse to them. According the studies, “children exposed to domestic violence often become victims of violence.” If violence is unavoidable, curl up into a ball, and protect your head.
Know What to Do in an Emergency
While you want to prevent domestic violence, sometimes it is unavoidable. Knowing what to do if it happens is critical. Train yourself how to leave the house in an emergency, along with your children, to include teaching them to dial 9-1-1 and how to knock on a neighbor’s door to ask for help. Keep your car parked in a way in a location that will allow you to leave more easily. In an emergency, nothing is more important than your safety and the safety of your children. Leave documents and pets behind, as painful as it may be.
Always Know What Your Options Are
The best way to protect yourself and your children is to know your resources and how to use them. It is essential to know now where the three closest domestic violence shelters are to you. It is important to keep reading updates regarding the court in your county and their protection order polices with COVID-19. If you are a victim of domestic violence, it is best to find a home base as soon as possible. It is important to know that if you seek a temporary protection order, you can request that your abuser is excluded from where you are living.
Erin Penrod is an Associate Attorney at Griffiths Law. She earned the Hartje Objective Writing Award for her exceptional legal writing and research and in her final year, she was named an Assistant Managing Editor on the Denver Law Review. She was a quarter-finalist in DU’s Hoffman Cup Trial Advocacy Competition for her outstanding trial skills during her academic career.