I thought a lot about a woman I met a few years ago. She lives in San Diego; her boyfriend kept her hostage for three days. He first opened her lip, then he seemed angry at her that she had a split lip and he took an Adidas shoe and beat her on the back. He strangled her when she was in the shower. He threw objects at her and carried her a knife.
She was in decent shape and wondered, during those three days, if she could get out of the house and outrun him. She wondered where she could run and who could help her. Shame and fear kept her in place.
Less than eight kilometers from where she was held, in the only training facility of its kind in the country, the police learn to deal with hostage situations in the context of domestic violence. Thanks mainly to cinema and television, most of us imagine burglaries when we hear the word “hostage”. In fact, although reliable statistics are difficult to obtain, episodes of domestic violence account for almost 80% of all hostage situations in the United States.
This is very important because those who take hostages in banks generally want to live, while men – and it is almost always men – who take their partners hostage do not share this incentive. Often, they care little about whether someone lives or dies, including themselves; what they want is to stay in control.
The woman I met in San Diego was not poor. She was not uneducated. She was the main breadwinner. She was beautiful, young and intelligent. After three days, she convinced her partner that they needed supplies. He drove with her to a convenience store. She sat in the passenger seat while he was shopping. He had taken his phone and his keys.
She thought she was running, but she was barefoot. How far would she go? Where would she go?
When they withdrew to their apartment, she saw her neighbors getting into their minivans. She doesn’t think. She bolted, barefoot, and plunged into the open door of the minivan.
This is what I envision as communities across the country begin to recommend – and in the case of cities like Los Angeles, mandate – social distancing to slow the spread of the coronavirus: and if its neighbors were not there in the car? What if she had fled to a house that didn’t answer the door? What if she fled to the emergency room and found her so overwhelmed that she couldn’t meet her needs? There was finally a five-hour confrontation between the police and her boyfriend, who barricaded himself inside their apartment.
People like her are the ones I think of during this pandemic – those for whom the outside world could be safer than their own home. What if her already violent boyfriend couldn’t attend his Ironman trainings? Or watch sports to unwind? What if there was no reason for her colleagues to wonder why she was not at work? What happens when the demands of social isolation mean that the most vulnerable in our society may be distant from their existence?
Where can they go in the coronavirus era?
Who keeps them safe in a world of absolute danger?
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In times of natural disasters and major social upheavals – Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, for example – the systems we have created to help victims of domestic violence can easily be overwhelmed. Nurses qualified for forensic examinations are already assigned to more general care or emergency rooms. At the same time, these nurses are generally women. They are more likely than men to care for aging parents. They are more likely to assume child care expenses. And right now, many of them – like me – have children coming home from school.
In communities across southern California and across the country, fears of coronaviruses have resulted in increased sales of firearms and tactical vests. And the research is unequivocal; Firearms in the Home of an Attacker Increase the Risk of Homicide by at least five times.
Historically, national and community crises have led to an increase in reports of domestic violence. During the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the National hotline against domestic violence saw a 13% increase in calls from the Gulf region from April to June 2010. New Orleans and Lafayette, two of the largest communities affected by the spill, saw their help lines increase by 81% and 116%, respectively, during this same period. Hurricane Katrina also saw domestic assaults against women almost double, and both men and women reported an increase in emotional abuse.
It all sounds bleak, but many of these situations involve couples who weren’t in healthy relationships at first. During a call from his home in Baltimore, Jacquelyn Campbell, professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing and the country’s first domestic violence researcher, took care to point out that someone who is not psychologically or physically violent before a crisis like coronavirus is not going to suddenly become violent. “It’s not like everything I’ve been through,” she said, “and my assumption is that any sort of horrible whatever the outdoors can exacerbate domestic violence. “
Campbell created a hazard assessment Decades ago, many programs now use it to try to predict domestic homicide before it happens. The identified stressors that make a life threatening are the same whether we are in a pandemic or not: guns in the home, forced sex, unemployment and, most notably, previous incidents of domestic violence.
But research on how domestic violence might be affected by our current situation simply does not exist. When an entire society closes, when children are at home all day after school, when sports and gymnasiums and social activities are all canceled, when friends cannot leave their own families to help , when places of worship are closed, when all this tempered a violent situation is suddenly, terrifying, no longer available. What happens then?
Campbell says measures such as the House of Representatives legislation to provide financial relief could go a long way to stopping the danger and keeping families healthy. She also says that victims of domestic violence often tend to have a compromised immune system given the stress they face on a daily basis and as such should be eligible for coronavirus testing sooner than the general population. Shelters should have early detection kits for the same reason.
We can try to prepare and we can try to predict. But here we are in foreign territory, a nationwide state of emergency, a pandemic moving with more speed, temerity and adaptability than we have seen in a century – because, in fact, there had some time before we had data, research and systems to respond to national problems. violence. From a time when it was still perfectly legal to beat or rape your wife.
So I think of this woman from San Diego. Her boyfriend was eventually sentenced to life in prison. During his trial, an emergency doctor said that he had never seen bruises like his, his skin was so thin to cover the swelling that it was about to break out. Layers of new bruises over the old ones. “You don’t know what it’s like to run,” she told me years later, after she was really, finally safe, “until you run for your life. . “
Rachel Louise Sndyer is the author of the award-winning “No visible bruise: what we don’t know about domestic violence can kill us.”