There’s a horrible logic to it. With stay-at-home orders in place across the country the number of minors who find themselves trapped at home with their abusers is up. The situation has resulted in a substantial increase in the number of calls from people under 18 to the National Sexual Assault Hotline:
By the end of March, with much of the country under lockdown, there was a 22% increase in monthly calls from people younger than 18, and half of all incoming contacts were from minors. That’s a first in RAINN’s history, Camille Cooper, the organization’s vice president of public policy, tells NPR.
Of those young people who contacted the hotline in March, 67% identified their perpetrator as a family member and 79% said they were currently living with that perpetrator. In 1 out of 5 cases where the minor was living with their abuser, RAINN assisted the minor in immediately contacting police.
“As a result of looking at the information that we had from those sessions, it was clear that the abuse was escalating in both frequency and severity,” Cooper says. “So a lot of the kids that were coming to the hotline were feeling pretty vulnerable and traumatized. And it was a direct result of COVID-19, because they were quarantined with their abuser. The abuser was now abusing them on a daily basis.”
The figures in the report all come from March. Since the first shutdowns in the country didn’t happen until after the middle of March, all of this increase must have happened in a relatively short period of time, maybe the last ten days of the month. It makes me wonder what the numbers will look like in April. The abuse reporting system is still operating during the crisis, meaning that if someone calls the police for help they can still be removed from a home by social services despite the lockdown.
This isn’t the only type of abuse that is reportedly surging during the pandemic. The BBC reported last week that calls to a revenge porn hotline in the UK also started surging in March. The connection in this case is less obvious, but the story suggests that the combination of more stress and more free time has led to more bad behavior:
Traffic to the helpline’s website nearly doubled in the week beginning Monday 23 March and more cases were opened in the following four weeks than in any previous four-week period…
When the messages lit up her phone Ava, 21, immediately started to panic.
One read, “Can’t even get the same satisfaction from leaking your nudes now you’re an actual hoe [whore].”
Surely he was bluffing, she remembers thinking.
“I don’t care what happens to me as long as I ruin your life,” another message read.
It quickly became clear that her ex was enraged by the fact that she was isolating with her new boyfriend…
The rate of domestic violence cases has been dropping across the country. The Marshall Project looked closely at reports in three U.S. cities and found that the rate has dropped but not as much as the drop in other types of crime. In fact, the number of 911 calls are up even though the number of cases is down.
When The Marshall Project examined three American cities, we were able to drill deeper into the data and sketch a fuller picture. Based on police reports in these cities—Chicago, Austin, and Chandler, Arizona—domestic violence appears to be dropping, as have reports of all crimes. (A similar trend has been observed in New York City.) But domestic violence numbers are falling less than crime overall, and in some cases the kinds of abuse reported is more violent. That may be because it’s harder for victims to get help during the pandemic…
Survivors always have a cost-benefit analysis in their minds, police and victim advocates say. Sometimes tolerating abuse is safer when the alternative is moving into a shelter where victims and their children may be exposed to the coronavirus, or when the abuser is the primary breadwinner as tens of millions lose their jobs. When victims do call police, a single report can belie many violent incidents that went unreported amid a pattern of abuse, says Margaret Bassett, training director at the Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault at the University of Texas at Austin…
One way to peek at the gap of underreporting is by comparing 911 calls with police incident reports. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in early March, the Chicago Police Department has been seeing more and more domestic violence-related service calls—as many as 13-percent more than last year at this time—even as domestic violence police reports decline, according to Aileen Robinson, the police’s domestic violence operation coordinator there (the department does not make 911 data available online). This means fewer victims are following through with filing complaints after they or their neighbors called the police.
So police, at least in Chicago, are getting a higher number of calls for domestic violence but fewer people following through with reports. While it’s hard to know why, it does make a certain sense that in the midst of a crisis the risk of disrupting the relationship and the living situation is greater.
I hope no one reading this is living through a situation like the ones described above, but if you are the National Sexual Assault Hotline is 800.656.HOPE (4673). The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).