Domestic Violence in the Age of COVID-19

Domestic Violence, Part 1

October 8, 2020

While the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge focuses on harnessing the power of communities to promote access to foods that support healthy eating patterns and access to health services, we know there is a clear intersection of food security and health care with domestic violence. To improve community health in any of these areas, we have to recognize the power of collaboration, both across sectors and with members of the public if we want to advance health equity and help people in our community who are experiencing domestic violence.

More than physical and sexual abuse

When most people think about domestic violence, they think of the visible signs of violence that we see on TV: the bruised eye only partially masked with concealer or the shattered dishes on the floor. What many of us don’t realize is that abuse can take many forms, and some of the most common ways abusers exert power and control aren’t so easy to see. Some withhold money from their partners or force them into social isolation and to keep family and friends from learning more about the violence.

For individuals already experiencing health inequities, these hidden forms of abuse can worsen issues related to food access and access to care. Somebody who suffers from domestic violence may not have access to funds to purchase food or to financial information they need to apply for food assistance programs. In some cases, an abuser may prevent their partner from seeing a doctor, especially if physical abuse is involved. 

Domestic violence and COVID-19

The pandemic can put victims at more risk. For example, the financial strain of losing a job can make the violence worse and reduce available resources for day-to-day needs or even the ability to flee an unhealthy relationship. Community domestic violence services may be limited because of concerns about spreading the virus, or because they have not been deemed essential in some states.

Social isolation during the pandemic is already difficult, and people isolated from loved ones by a partner may struggle with their mental health. In some instances, abusers may even refuse to allow a partner to seek medical attention if they become infected with COVID-19.

That’s why this year’s theme for DVAM is #ListeningFromHome. This is a call to action for all of us to pay attention to what happens behind closed doors during quarantine, to offer support and to call for help when we think someone might need it. The first step is learning how to recognize and respond to suspected violence.

Community actions to end domestic violence

The Domestic Violence Awareness Project asks each of us to observe DVAM and to choose #1Thing we can do in our communities to prevent violence. Every front-line organization can choose to do something to support survivors in their community — you just have to think outside the box when it comes to the way systems work together. Ask yourself:

  • Who can my organization partner with to share resources about domestic violence at our community food pantry sites or to conduct domestic violence screenings in our clinic?
  • How can community health workers or navigators reach individuals with a history of abuse to make sure they are safe?
  • What can we do to make sure individuals experiencing abuse can still access food and needed care?
  • Which cross-sector partners can we engage to meet the needs of victims and survivors?
  • How can we listen to survivors’ stories to understand the barriers they experience in our system and to identify opportunities for policy change?

All it takes is each of us choosing one thing to change systems and policies to better support victims and survivors of domestic violence in our communities. Together, we can prevent violence while we make sure that everyone has access to the food and health services they need to thrive.

If you or someone you know needs help: call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224 or visit

Learn more about the connection between violence, racial disparities and COVID-19 by viewing a recording of the APHA webinar “A Tale of Two Pandemics: How COVID-19 & Racism intersect with Interpersonal Violence” and reading Public Health Newswire’s interview with Karma Cottman, “Addressing intimate partner violence within the Black community.”


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