COVID-19 and Domestic Abuse: Surviving the Quarantine
The social isolation, fear, anxiety and extreme restrictions that have been put into place amidst the coronavirus pandemic are enough to cause the most well-adjusted person to become uneasy, restless, anxious and depressed and to feel the need to escape. For those in relationships fraught with abuse, the social isolation, fear, and anxiety are even worse and being trapped with their oppressor may seem unbearable. However, there is still legal relief in this time of uncertainty.
Unfortunately, a pandemic creates an even more toxic situation for those in an abusive relationship. What do we know about the “typical” abuser? They usually have personality characteristics that are narcissistic, antisocial and sometimes sociopathic in nature. They many times also have obsessive or addictive personalities. The “stay put” orders and closures that are in effect countywide and statewide have increased levels of anxiety and depression. Generally, when there is an increase in anxiety and depression, there is a parallel increase in consumption of alcohol and other intoxicating substances in order to deal with the feelings of isolation, anxiety and depression. It is also easier to rationalize drinking more and more often because we can “sleep it off the next day.” We know that many times drinking can escalate already scary and unpredictable behavior and make people “meaner” and more brazen than they were before they took that drink, so their likelihood to do harm (either with their words or physically) increases. Because abusive personalities many times have issues with addictions, being stuck at home with a partner who is drinking and whose behavior is escalating and becoming more reckless, erratic and dangerous can be very frightening.
The narcissistic personality also does not function well when attention is focused somewhere other than them. Certainly, with the focus on the pandemic and the crisis at hand, it is likely to escalate the behavior of the narcissist so that they can draw attention back to them. The narcissist in addition to the antisocial personality and the sociopath adore control. Based upon my experience as a domestic law attorney, they actually seem to require control in order to function in life. It is like oxygen for the rest of us. They thrive on control and suffering. They become their own personal tornadoes ripping through any environment or family and creating mass destruction everywhere they go, leaving the victims destitute, broken and exhausted while they become exhilarated and re-fueled by the experience.
That is really the picture that we are left with… a family trapped inside a home with a raging destructive storm within. It may not be noticeable to the outside world, but the atmospheric conditions are perfect outside to fuel the storm within, due to the pandemic, the fear, the restrictions, the isolation, and the list goes on and on. It feels like a prison to those trapped inside and does not have to involve physical violence. Domestic violence (which includes abuse) in North Carolina and in other states is “continued harassment that leads to substantial emotional distress.” Basically, the feeling that the victim(s) is walking around on pins and needles and that at any moment the volcano (the abuser) is going to explode (and for no legitimate reason). The tension in abusive relationships is likely to increase during a pandemic and the abuser’s patience runs thin with everyday family life and all of the chaos, noise, and responsibilities that accompany that (again the is not attention focused on them).
Finally, a central tenet of most abusive relationships is social and familial isolation. The abuser ensures that family and friends are ousted from the home slowly but surely. The pandemic and the quarantines give them an opportunity to even further manipulate their partners and children and keep them further isolated from being able to seek help. They can use quarantine or threat of illness to keep partners inside and away from help to the extreme.
Seeking help at this time may seem impossible. It may be hard to make phone calls, search for relief on the Internet or try to contact a lawyer. You must always keep safety first and if you think that you cannot safely seek help then you may need to wait. However, your first line of defense if you feel that you or your children are in imminent danger is to call 911! Law enforcement is still working and willing to help. Also, non-profit domestic violence agencies are still open and ready to help, and their services are free to the public. Due to the closings, some of the services may be limited but they are still offering some services and assistance with filing Domestic Violence Protective Orders or Restraining Orders. While the Court System may be closed right now, there are some courtrooms still open for business and still hearing cases. One of those courtrooms is the domestic violence courtroom. You can go to your local courthouse and file for a Protective Order right now, even with all of the closures. A Protective Order generally will evict your spouse and put a no contact in place to give you and your children some peace and security to get through this difficult period. There are also many attorneys who are offering free consultations via telephone or online right now. This is a good time to take advantage of those services. I am a domestic attorney in Wake County and have listed some Wake County resources to call, however, there are local courthouses and community agencies in most counties if you Google them. I have also listed a National Domestic Violence Hotline, anyone from anywhere can call that number for help (24 hours a day, 7 days a week).
Raleigh Police Department – Family Violence Unit 919-996-3335
Wake County Domestic Violence Court 919-792-4887
InterAct of Wake (24 hr. hotline) 919-828-7740
National Domestic Violence Hotline 800-779-7233
You can obtain more information at our website at www.lesnik-law.com. We also offer free initial consultations and are happy to help you or find someone who can.