Editor's Note: This story contains some disturbing details about domestic abuse.
Social isolation and a looming recession make the coronavirus pandemic an especially dangerous time for abuse victims, experts say.
When schools and workplaces close, those who live with their abusers have no escape.
The stressful times also increase the likelihood that individuals who tend to be abusive will lash out again.
One hellish week in 2013, Gabbe Rowland was severely beaten, threatened, tortured, and forcibly injected with heroin by the man she loved.
Rowland's abuser, whom she had been with for nearly two years, wouldn't let her see her friends or family and destroyed her phone so she couldn't reach out to anyone for help.
The only relief the Cape Cod woman had during that time was the eight hours she was allowed to go to work.
"I know that when I was with my abuser and leaving my abuser — obviously there wasn't any type of pandemic going on — my work was who I turned to when I was ready to leave," Rowland told Insider on Wednesday. "If I was in quarantine, I wouldn't be able to do that. I would have been stuck in a house with him."
The coronavirus pandemic has prompted many businesses to close in an effort to halt the spread of the highly contagious illness.
provided by Gabbe Rowland.
With workplaces closing indefinitely, many victims are finding themselves trapped in close quarters with their abusers
The coronavirus pandemic and related recommendations for social distancing are forcing many individuals to be at home with their abusers with nowhere to seek relief.
Mary J. Ingham is the executive director of the Crisis Intervention Service, which serves domestic violence and trauma survivors in rural Iowa.
She told Insider on Wednesday that the pandemic and looming recession is putting victims who were already in unsafe situations in even more danger.
"It feels like everyone is in crisis mode and I really fear for how long that will be," Ingham said. "We have had a few people who were planning to leave an unsafe situation and realized, 'Now isn't the time and I'm going to live with this person for the next 30 days, or 60 days.'"
Many survivors the nonprofit serves work in industries that have been directly affected by the pandemic, like restaurants and bars that have been closed, Ingham said.
Those individuals are dealing with an increased financial burden, but have also lost the only time that they, or their abuser, was out of the house.
"We also know that many of the people we work with look forward to when their partners are at work for 8 hours a day. That's time for them to reach out to support, reach out to our agency and other service providers and friends, and that time is being taken away," Ingham said. "So many victims have their every move monitored, so they look forward to work time, and with that eliminated it just adds more and more layers of stress to an already volatile home situation."
In addition to the lack of space between victims and their abusers, the stressors of the time also increase the likelihood that individuals will be abusive, according to Laura Palumbo, the spokeswoman the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
Knowing that natural disasters, financial fallouts, and other emergency situations tend to correlate with spikes in domestic and sexual violence, and nonprofits around the country are concerned for the future.
"The types of stress and anxiety that any sort of emergency situation creates increases the likelihood that an individual might perpetrate abuse," Laura Palumbo, the spokeswoman for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, told Insider.
"People who commit abuse, both sex and domestic violence, are more likely to commit those behaviors because of the conditions were are all facing."
Rowland mimicked Palumbo's comments.
"Even around the Superbowl, abusers energies get so amplified, whether their team is winning or losing (more specifically losing) that they're going to lash out on the people closest to them," she said. "Obviously with the stress of this coronavirus, the closest person that the abuser can lash out on, and will lash out on, is their victim, and now you're quarantined with them."
AP Photo/Seth Wenig
In addition to offices and restaurants, many schools have also canceled classes during the pandemic, leading to children of an abuser being forced to spend more time in their company.
"Now those children are around a more volatile person," Rowland said.
Nonprofits are doing as much as they can virtually
Ingham said her staff is putting in extra hours in an effort to maintain relationships with their at-risk clients, but those meetings are being done virtually.
When trapped at home, it might be difficult for some abuse victims to take a call, so counselors are relying heavily on text messaging to maintain open communication.
Staff make sure that their clients are aware of safety measures when communicating by text, like deleting messages after their conversation. Some are also leaving meals on their clients porches.
But Ingham is worried that losing face time with their clients, while necessary for social distancing, might be detrimental to the stability of some trauma survivors.
Those who face violence may also be reluctant to seek medical or police attention because of the strain on the healthcare system, or their limited resources.
"If you are a woman or someone in a gender-based violence situation, these are times when it's very hard to ask for help," YWCA CEO Alejandra Y. Castillo told Insider.
Emergency shelters for women were already near capacity. The pandemic has made that worse.
The YWCA, which is one of the largest service providers to domestic abuse survivors, is already observing how the pandemic will affect the safety of clients, Castillo said.
One of the services that the agency provides is to find housing for abuse victims.
"Imagine, under normal circumstances we have shortages of emergency and temporary and long-term shelters for women," Castillo told Insider. "Under these circumstances, we're seeing a very dire situation."
The structure of many emergency shelters is "dorm-like" and so ensuring that those densely populated settings stay novel coronavirus-free requires intense screening. When a shelter resident tests positive, nonprofits are left scrambling to find testing and secure safe housing for everyone else who shares a space with them, Castillo said.
To prevent exposure to COVID-19, which is highly contagious, nonprofits like YWCA are working to maintain social distancing in their shelters, but that can be especially challenging when even more women are in need of services, Castillo said.
In Ohio, where prisons have begun releasing some inmates, the YWCA has been tapped to take in some people who have no safe place to go, Castillo said.
"Our DNA, our ethos, has always been that we are a safe place," Castillo said. "We're finding that now, not only addressing the needs of survivors, we're having a whole other vulnerable population at our door."
Ingham is also seeing an issue finding shelters for clients in Iowa.
Several shelters have already partnered with hotels for overflow housing as their units are at full-capacity.
But the hotel rooms are coming at an increased expense to nonprofits that are already strapped for funding.
Outside of temporary housing, other access to other social services, including child care, is also limited during the crisis.
"Because everyone is focused on the COVID-19 virus, understandably so, some of those basic social support networks completely aren't there," Ingham said.
Feng Li / Staff / Getty Images
This is the time for neighbors to stop 'looking through people'
The pandemic is a difficult time for everyone. While it's important to continue to practice social distancing, these times also call for increased social outreach from neighbors, experts say.
"I think on a level, everyone is trying to balance 'How am I going to balance it all?' But when you add that level of trauma on the base, it's just more stress for people who are already stressed," Ingham said.
Palumbo said that while agencies scramble to provide services for those in need, members of their communities should think creatively about how they can maintain connections to people around them.
"I think that this is a time where even though we need to be respectful at practicing social distancing, it's also important to try and find opportunities for community connection," Palumbo said.
For Ingham, that attitude can be anything from thinking about the needs of the community before panic-buying toilet paper to introducing yourself to a neighbor you see on the street.
During the pandemic, it's time to stop "looking through" people, she said.
That way, if the person ever does need help, they might know who is approachable.
"It's so important that if you are a part of someone's circle of safety and support that they are still feeling connected to you at this time," Palumbo said.
As far as being a witness to physical abuse, Rowland recommends a policy of "see something say something."
"If you hear an argument that you think is being escalated, just be aware of it," Rowland said. "If things do escalate, call the police."
Rowland's abuser, who is now serving a prison sentence and was recently denied parole, rarely "acted out in public," she said.
If he did, and someone called the police, she thinks she might not have been happy at the time because she was trapped in a cycle of making excuses for him.
"In the end, though, I would have been really grateful because maybe my eyes would have been opened a little sooner," she said.
If you, or someone you know, is in danger of domestic abuse, you can reach the US National Domestic Violence Hotline on their website, by phone at 1-800-799-7233 and TTY 1-800-787-3224, or text LOVEIS to 22522.
You can also read about domestic violence resources available during the pandemic here.
Read the original article on Insider