Home Sweet Home? Home is Not Always a Safe Haven

The Covid-19 pandemic has helped many couples and families by strengthening bonds due to shelter-in-place mandates. Increased time and sharing everyday activities together tend to form strong, emotional ties. But this is not always the case.

Disasters may weaken relationships and predict divorces. This was the case after Hurricanes Hugo in 1989, Andrew in 1992, Katrina in 2005, and Sandy in 2012. Interestingly, disasters may strengthen relationships in the short-term, but weaken them in the long-term. In the weeks after a disaster people may come together to overcome a common challenge. But this phase can morph into a disillusionment phase. Stress, anger, grief, increased substance use, conflict and domestic violence can emerge.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, one in four women and one in seven men faced physical violence by a partner at some point in their lifetimes. There is now an alarming rise in domestic violence reports since the start of coronavirus-related quarantines. Shelter-in-place puts victims in close proximity to their abusers with fewer resources to leave.

According to the CDC, 676,000 children were abused or neglected in 2016 in the United States. They are even more vulnerable to abuse when families are confined to home.

The majority of elder abuse victims suffer at the hands of relatives, typically the older adult’s immediate family members. It is largely a hidden problem and tends to be committed in the privacy of the elderly person’s home. Abuse could include physical abuse, emotional abuse, financial exploitation, sexual abuse or neglect.

Intentional cruelty to animals is strongly correlated with other crimes, including violence against people. In one study, 71 percent of domestic violence victims reported that their abuser also targeted pets. In another study of families under investigation for suspected child abuse, researchers found that pet abuse had occurred in 88% of the families under supervision for physical abuse of their children. Many domestic violence victims remain in violent households for fear of their pets’ safety. Fortunately, animal cruelty became a felony offense, in all 50 states, in 2014.

When under intense stress, even people without a propensity toward power and control may feel driven to behaviors they wouldn’t normally think they were capable of. If you feel overwhelmed, remove yourself from the situation, rather than respond to your family member or pet during moments of anger or rage. Walk away.

Domestic violence is a crime. Any person who hits, chokes, kicks, threatens, harasses, or interferes with the personal liberty of another family or household member has broken Illinois Domestic Violence law. Domestic violence organizations are working to establish a plan for emergency housing to keep victims safe during the Covid-19 crisis. Police will provide support to all people and pets who are being abused. Don’t hesitate to call.

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