The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 has exposed and exacerbated many prevalent social justice issues. While social isolation plays a critical role in stopping the spread of COVID-19, it also has some negative effects. Regardless of their field of practice, social workers must adapt to the situation, which has many challenges, especially because social work practice most often involves in person contact. Social isolation also makes it difficult to help clients get access to the resources they need. Social workers who may have been successfully keeping their home and work lives separate must navigate the fusion of them during social isolation. Among the many issues raised from coronavirus pandemic and social isolation is the rise in domestic violence.
In the Guardian’s article “In quarantine with an abuser: surge in domestic violence reports linked to coronavirus” (the guardian) the dialogue continues. The writer mentions that “Activists worldwide have reported an alarming rise in domestic violence cases since the start of coronavirus-related quarantines” (the guardian). The increase in domestic violence is rising because of the need for people to socially isolate. If the those who are being abused leave the home they will be “expose[d]… not just to a deadly virus but a world that has largely closed its doors” (The Guardian).
The writer of the Guardian article also acts as a resource broker, which is one of the many roles that social workers can assume, by connecting readers with a useful resource that victims of abuse can use despite lack of privacy to safely ask for help. She says that “Safe Horizon has a chat service on their website for quiet interactions, as well as an escape button which allows survivors to quickly leave their website without it appearing in their browser history” (The Guardian). This can be a useful resource for those who do not have enough space or privacy to call a national hotline or access other resources. It is necessary for social workers to stay updated with current developments in the resources for domestic abuse survivors, such as the one mentioned in the Guardian article.
It is also important to emphasize that women are not the only people who are particularly vulnerable to domestic violence. Children are also at increased risk. A New York Times article, “The coronavirus could cause a child abuse epidemic,” focuses on the likely increase in child abuse cases. Social isolation which has initiated the closing of schools among other social institutions, which means that “Children aren’t seeing the teachers, counselors and other adults who would normally raise concerns about their well-being” (NY Times). Due to the lower availability of child-abuse reporters during social isolation, there will likely be an under-reporting of child abuse. Unfortunately, “The Covid-19 pandemic has created the conditions for a rise in child abuse that could go unchecked” (NY Times). It is important for social workers to look for innovative ways to ensure the safety of children in times such as these.
Time magazine released an online article that discusses the increase in domestic violence titled “As Cities Around the World Go on Lockdown, Victims of Domestic Violence Look for a Way Out.” This article does a better job of showing the complexities of the situation in a way that none of the other articles do. The article cites that “the National Domestic Violence Hotline reports that a growing number of callers say that their abusers are using COVID-19 as a means of further isolating them from their friends and family” (Time). Victims fear that they may get the virus and there is an obligation for them to stay home, which sometimes means avoiding getting the help that they need. Unfortunately, the actual increase in domestic violence is not the only thing that survivors will suffer. Resources are being cut down and the poor condition of the economy may result in economic dependence of survivors on their abusers. Many resources are overwhelmed including health systems which produces challenges “for victims to get access to medical care or therapists” (Time) and women’s shelters in certain areas may even close “if the risk of infection is deemed too high” (Time).
The Guardian and Times articles also make sure to emphasize the economic influences on domestic violence survivors. The expected economic recession “make[s] it more difficult for victims to leave abusive relationships” (Time). These difficulties arise in the positive correlation between the rises “Studies show that as unemployment rises, so do levels of domestic violence” (The Guardian). This means that survivors will likely need more access to resources. However, their need may not be met since “Many social services for victims of domestic violence will also suffer budget cuts under a recession” (Time). Many women are financially dependent on their partners, which is exacerbated by the fact that “Women hold two-thirds of America’s low-wage jobs, and many have now been cut” (The Guardian). The economic recession and lay-offs that have resulted form social isolation are important to note as they increase the dependency of survivors of domestic abuse on their abusers. In order to empower those who have been abused to separate from their abusers and align with the social work values of competence, justice, and integrity, they will need to have access to resources.
Since social isolation has led to many new challenges for domestic violence survivors and advocates, the writer of this article suggests that “Community organizers, faith-based leaders and elected officials should coordinate with mental health clinicians, social workers and counselors to conduct virtual check-ins with high-risk families, something that’s already being done to some extent in New York City” (Time). A maintaining of communication with existing clients is imperative based on social work ethics. She also argues that the current situation “revealed gaps” in the way our current system functions. The writer insists on looking at this crisis as “an opportunity to use new tools to ensure” the safety of those who have been abused (Time). This reflects the way that social workers should be innovators, looking for new policy and practice solutions to help remedy existing problems.
While social isolation is the best move for the general population in terms of physical health, it complicates the lives of many by leading to economic instability, fear of spreading or catching the virus, forced social isolation with abusers, increased levels of depression and anxiety, and excess stress on individuals as well as on social institutions. A combination of these factors has also complicated the work of social workers that have never dealt with a pandemic situation such as COVID-19. The current situation has shed light on what social institutions and social workers in particular need to do in order to better serve those who suffer from domestic abuse.
On the basis of social work values (justice, integrity, competence, etc.), social work ethics (Maintain communication with existing clients, keep private and professional life separate) and practice (“policies, practice, and advocacy”, connect victims with resources, Assists clients).