The response to the novel Coronavirus COVID-19 has been hard for everyone. Unprecedented layoffs and strict stay-at-home orders have made life difficult and put a financial strain on families in Maryland and around the world. But for those in abusive relationships, staying home isn’t the same as staying safe. Experts are seeing stay-at-home orders push domestic violence rates higher, creating danger precisely when there are less opportunities to get support.
To limit the spread of COVID-19, states and local governments nationwide have been closing businesses, restricting government services, and telling everyone to stay in their homes. Maryland’s stay-at-home orders went into place on March 30, 2020. While Governor Larry Hogan’s May 13, 2020 executive order began to lift some restrictions on non-essential businesses, many other facilities and services remain closed.
Because of these shutdowns, by April 19, more than 300,000 Marylanders had filed for unemployment benefits. In May, Governor Hogan’s communication director, Mike Ricci estimated that the state unemployment office was getting approximately 1,000 calls every two hours.
The combination of lost jobs, financial stress, and 24-7 contact creates a perfect storm for domestic violence. As Katie Ray-Jones, chief executive for the National Domestic Violence Hotline explained told the New York Times:
“We know that any time an abusive partner may be feeling a loss of power and control — and everybody’s feeling a loss of power and control right now — it could greatly impact how victims and survivors are being treated in their homes.”
Past natural disasters and financial crises have shown an increase in the frequency and intensity of abuse, including the 2008 Great Recession, the 9/11 terrorist attack, and Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina. Now, states are starting to see the same trend as a result of COVID-19.
In Chicago, a city-wide domestic violence hotline fielded 383 calls in the first week of March (before the COVID-19 shutdowns). By the last week of April, that number was 549. Police there saw a 12% increase in domestic violence calls from January through mid-April compared to the same period last year. New York law enforcement and social workers actually had decreased reports, however calls to shelters for domestic violence victims have increased sharply. Police and prosecutors there are worried that the 40% drop in arrests have to do with problems victims have in reaching out for help.
That is due, at least partly, to the shutdowns themselves. Many cases of domestic abuse come to light because victims, especially children, reach out while away from home for other reasons. Adults may tell a coworker, therapist, or doctor, or may use an errand as an excuse to go to the police. Domestic abuse against children is often discovered by teachers, doctors, or child care providers. But with the stay-at-home orders in place, victims’ access to these support structures has been limited, or even removed entirely.
In addition, the shelters themselves are facing struggles to contain the spread of the virus. One shelter closed down its hotline and stopped allowing new families into the shelter. Eventually it had to close down entirely, housing the 32 families inside in nearby hotels instead. Now the hotline is open again, but few callers are asking for shelter anymore.
“What they’re seeking from the counselors is support in how to keep things at peace at home, figuring out what options they have if they absolutely have to leave the house,” said Sandy Williams, the director of the shelter.
Here at home, help is also hard to come by. Maryland courts closed to the public on March 16, 2020. New requests for peace or protective orders or extreme risk protective orders for domestic violence are still being heard, but only in emergency cases. Also the process of filing your documents is now more confusing than ever, with county courthouses closed and staff making decisions about hearings on a case by case basis. That means it may be difficult to have your case heard and remove an abusive spouse or partner before the situation turns violent.
At the Law Office of Shelly M. Ingram, our divorce lawyers understand the importance of responding to an abusive situation before it becomes dangerous. We can help you consider your options and create a plan that keeps you safe while complying with Maryland Covid-19 protocols (which vary from county to county), and also across the country. If a peace order or protective order is warranted, we can help you navigate the new court procedures to get your case heard as soon as possible. If not, we can help you create a plan to keep the peace at home and be ready to file for divorce as soon as the courts reopen.
We are taking this matter seriously and observing all of the State and local recommendations for our clients and our staff. While we are not offering in-person client meetings, our office remains fully operational. Our office offers in-person and virtual consultations and mediations using Zoom, Skype, Facetime, and telephone. Contact us today to schedule a mediation or a consultation with one of our attorneys.