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Grace Saunders — June 19, 2020

Staying "Safe" at Home: COVID and its Effects on Sexual Violence

Grace Saunders

I can easily say that throughout the development of the current global pandemic, I have felt a lot of emotions. I have had moments of fear, anxiety, isolation, peace, relief, acceptance, and fear again. A common theme in my conversations over the last three months has been the way COVID-19 has changed personal communities and caused people to withdraw from their normal support groups. From quarantining for months to having a lot of normalcy put on hold, this season has been one where people may feel alone and overwhelmed. Staying home is different for each individual. Some people connect the word home to peace, security, and a place of belonging. Others see a home as a place of chaos, violence, and a lack of safety. The hard truth is that “staying safe at home” is not safe for everyone.

In our human nature, we can get so invested in what is hard for us, that we sometimes fail to consider what is hard for others. The reality for many is that they are quarantined with their abuser and they have no escape or distraction from the violence occurring in the home they are unsafe in. Of the young people calling RAINN in March, 79% said they were currently living with their perpetrator. In addition to a 22% increase in calls from people under the age of 18 to RAINN’s hotline by the end of March, there is also increased risk for those affected by intimate partner violence (IPV). 

“Experts have characterized an ‘invisible pandemic’ of domestic violence during the COVID-19 crisis as a ‘ticking time bomb’ or a ‘perfect storm.'”


People are fighting common strategies of abuse such as “isolation from friends, family and employment; constant surveillance; strict, detailed rules for behavior; and restrictions on access to such basic necessities as food, clothing, and sanitary facilities” in the “home” they are quarantined in with their abuser. There is potential that in the months surrounding this pandemic, survivors won’t get the support they need. With access to help feeling unlikely, many living in environments of violence may not see an end in sight. 

Statistics and needs can be overwhelming. They are reminders that although a multitude of things has stopped in lieu of this global pandemic, sexual violence hasn’t stopped. If sexual violence hasn’t stopped, then we can’t stop. We still have our voices and resources to support those who are currently facing sexual violence and who are working to heal from it. In a time where isolation is common, we can stand as a community ready to use the technology we have to advocate, educate, and listen. Help may feel different during this crisis, but we can still provide help. We can use our platform to give people space to share their stories and know that they are heard, even now. Their story and their trauma don’t lessen in importance just because other things are going on. 

“During the COVID-19 crisis, it is therefore important to think critically about idealized representations of home and family and to make it possible for people to talk about, and where possible take action to counter abusive and controlling family life. Asking people directly, on repeated occasions, about whether they consistently feel safe at home is one way of doing this; however, it is also important that people asking this questions have the time and emotional resources to listen and respond to the often-subtle ways that people indicated they are scared and unsafe.”


You can locate The National Sexual Assault Online Hotline at https://hotline.rainn.org/online?_ga=2.175800674.174909019.1571500357-1575458619.1571500357.

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