The Rise of Domestic Violence in the time of COVID-19

Written by: Abhilash Singh, Arely Meraz, Dane Oldham, Katie Lutovsky – Student reporters

Domestic violence against women has steadily been increasing during the time that couples and families have been working from home without an outlet to escape. During this pandemic, Elizabeth Wilmerding, the program manager of the Violence Prevention and Advocacy Program at UW Bothell, has been helping students with domestic violence issues. She has provided emotional support and resources such as housing and employment to those who have been victims of domestic violence. The University of Washington Bothell offers free advocacy and support for students affected by sexual assault, rape, relationship violence, domestic violence, stalking, sexual harassment, and other related experiences.

Wilmerding has been working in violence prevention for the past ten years, in both campus and community settings. She strives to bring a lens of social justice and community accountability to her work. She is particularly interested in preventing harm in LGBTQ+ communities. At UW Bothell, this support, and more, remains available during the pandemic and as the campus is operating remotely, as Wilmerding has been meeting students through Zoom and phone calls.

“When students are connecting with me, I’m able to give them a safe confidential space where they can share any level of detail that they want about what happened to them and sometimes students haven’t had that time and space to process. They might be really hesitant to talk to their friends or family about it or they might not know how. They might be worried that they’re going to be judged or be worried about the reaction that they’ll get. Having that space can be really helpful and having somebody to validate what they’ve been through and to tell them that they are believed in and that they are supported and cared for.”

Elizabeth Wilmerding

Valery Richardson, Title IX coordinator for all three of the UW campuses, explained the ins and outs of how the reporting system works and the different kinds of resources they provide for domestic violence victims. Valerie explains that she’s the overseer of all the resources and ensures they are all flowing cohesively to offer the maximum amount of support to those victims who have been abused. 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, Richardson has seen a trending increase in domestic abuse situations. Richardson also explained that it’s been a struggle to connect with those in dangerous situations because they can no longer walk into an office. They have to find a way to connect online, which can be difficult because abusers are oftentimes surveilling them and their online accounts. 

King County has also helped aid in this struggle to connect as all petitions for Civil Protection Orders can now be done remotely. It was published by King County and details how the Prosecuting Attorney’s Protection Order Advocacy Program (POAP) is dealing with protection orders during the pandemic while still promoting social distancing. 

Christopher McBride, assistant manager of Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County (DVS) in an interview stated:

“At the start of the pandemic, we didn’t receive many calls at all. However, it was most likely because survivors couldn’t call in. Because of quarantine, everyone had to stay in their homes in order to prevent the spread of the virus. So, the abuser and their victim would stay in their home for long periods of time. Normally, victims would reach out to us when their abuser has left the house, but due to the pandemic this was no longer easy for them.” 

Christopher McBride

McBride also explained that report numbers started going back up around August. Coronavirus guidelines and regulations were either uplifted or made more lenient around this time, granting victims the opportunity to reach out. However, as we are approaching January, more coronavirus restrictions are being put in place once again.

When asked about this in an interview, the Seattle police department’s officer Valarie Carson said that the police cannot really do anything about this.

“There’s really nothing that the police can do as far as coronavirus is concerned. You know we can’t, we can’t change how it has impacted people’s lives. However, what we can do is try to make the best of a situation either after something has already happened or trying to keep it from happening in the first place.” 

Valarie Carson

Police officers are the first people to respond to a scene of domestic violence and their job is to investigate and determine if a crime occurred and if it did, to then take the appropriate action. Coronavirus hasn’t changed that.

“The best thing that they can do in that sense is hopefully stop something before it happens by getting the parties apart from each other. That’s usually the best thing to do and then if they are arriving at the scene of a domestic violence-related crime the next best thing, we can do is make sure that that gets investigated thoroughly and properly and that we make interest when it’s warranted.”

Valarie Carson

Given the rise in domestic violence cases during the pandemic, if you or someone you know is experiencing the same situation that has been described, reach out to one of the many resources through campus. Connect with an advocate by calling 425-352-3851 or email uwbvae@uw.edu. You can also learn more here. Meeting with an advocate will not automatically lead to any kind of investigation by the university or the police.​

To protect privacy, email is best used to simply schedule appointments, without including too much detail. The Violence Prevention & Advocacy program takes confidentiality seriously, and while access to the email account is limited to program staff, email is not always a secure form of communication.

If someone tells you they were sexually assaulted or are in a controlling and abusive relationship, remember that you might be the first person they have told. Your response helps determine whether they feel safe and supported telling others or seeking additional help. Visit this link to learn more.

You can also stay up to date with what is going on with the Violence Prevention & Advocacy Program here.

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