While most conversations surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic center on record case counts and how to effectively distribute a vaccine, the country shouldn’t overlook some of the less visible impacts and victims of the pandemic.

A recent research report highlighted by the United States Congress Joint Economic Committee calls attention to the increase in cases of domestic violence during the pandemic and urges policymakers to consider how closures caused by COVID-19 may be contributing to the increase and “look for ways to mitigate the unintended consequences.”

That mitigation starts with all of us.

Conditions such as unexpected time at home, job loss and financial insecurity, as well as the accompanying stress of such conditions, are known to contribute to or aggravate domestic violence, according to a Brigham Young University study cited by the report. Such conditions have been increased significantly during the pandemic, particularly for communities already disproportionately affected by domestic violence.

According to The New England Journal of Medicine, most people who experience domestic violence in the form of intimate partner violence don’t typically seek help and, during the pandemic the lack of coherent and consistent processes for reporting abuses can further discourage people from seeking help, meaning that even with the increased number of reports, many cases of potentially escalating domestic abuse continue to go unreported.

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Increasing penalty for 3rd domestic violence offense gets strong support in Utah Senate

In Utah, the state Senate is working to pass legislation that would enhance the penalty for repeat domestic violence offenders. Under current law, domestic violence is considered a class A misdemeanor and with the proposed bill SB64, the offense would be raised to carry a third-degree felony classification for anyone with two such previous convictions within a 10-year period. 

And while the proposed penalty shows an awareness of the concern for domestic abuses among lawmakers, Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, said this week that he’s “not entirely certain that this bill will do anything but criminalize people who are already, for whatever reason, in a bad situation.”

However, Anderegg noted, increasing penalties doesn’t always deter crime. Intervention rather than criminalization is a potentially better approach.  

So what does intervention look like and who is responsible, especially when continued pandemic precautious exacerbate social inequities and hardships?

The New England Journal of Medicine states that the “pandemic has highlighted how much work needs to be done to ensure that people who experience abuse can continue to obtain access to support, refuge and medical care when another public health disaster hits.” That means that clinicians, public health officials and policymakers all have a responsibility to increase their efforts to address the layers of social inequalities exacerbating abuse in their communities now and moving forward. 

But the responsibility is not on them alone. 

Within our own communities, each of us can also act as a resource if we educate ourselves about the signs of abuse and make ourselves available as a support or resource for those in need of help. 

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Domestic violence cases have risen during pandemic, but help available, police say

In cases where individuals are less likely to report abuse or seek the help they need, the value of a friend, neighbor or family member stepping in to help cannot be underestimated — but it must be done with caution and awareness for the volatility of the individual situation. 

Advice from Dr. Eve Valera, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a research scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital, suggests checking in frequently with those you suspect are experiencing abuse or are being isolated and providing them with opportunities to inform you when things are not going well. 

You can’t make decisions for those experiencing abuse, but you can support them and when people have the support of their community, no matter their situation, they are likely better off. 

Resources for learning about and supporting those experiencing abuse:

National Domestic Violence Hotline (http://thehotline.org, text LOVEIS to 22522, or call 1-800-799-7233).

Futures Without Violence (https://www.futureswithoutviolence.org/resources-events/get-help/).

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Crisis Text Line: 24/7 text chat line for individuals in crisis in the United States and Canada; (text HOME to 741741).

National Parent Hotline (call 1-855-427-2736).

Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline (https://www.childhelp.org/childhelp-hotline/ or call 1-800-422-4453).

Call 911 or your local emergency services number.

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