Addressing Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) During COVID-19

In the midst of a public health crisis, when communities are asked to stay at home to stay safe, home is not a safe place for many intimate partner violence (IPV) victims. Law enforcement agencies and advocates across the country are facing the increasing needs of communities to address intimate partner violence. Jurisdictions across the country have already begun to observe spikes in IPV. The National Network for Safe Communities has been closely following these conversations and recognizes the frustration and fear that police departments, courts, prosecutors, and advocates are experiencing on behalf of survivors.

The National Network for Safe Communities and experts from around the country are working to share what they’re seeing and how they’re addressing intimate partner violence in the context of COVID-19.

On April 13, 2020, the National Network hosted a virtual panel on maintaining a robust response to IPV during the era of COVID-19 and ways to continue to keep survivors safe. The goal was to bring together experts in the field and discuss ways to protect the most vulnerable victims,  identify enforcement and sanctions for those who cause harm, and innovate system responses both during this current social distancing period and for any other periods in the future.

Additional Questions and Answers

What contact methods can be used to address Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) when social distancing protocols eliminate in-person contact in many jurisdictions during the current pandemic?

A number of jurisdictions are implementing new protocols to keep their workers safe while holding abusers accountable and keeping victims safe. 

Monitoring

For known IPV offenders, continued contact and supervision plays a key role in holding them accountable.  Jurisdictions are already using some methods that support social distancing.

GPS, home, or ankle monitoring by probation, parole or pre-trial supervision can be started or continued for the most dangerous known offenders.

Video chat can be used in the supervision of IPV offenders at both regularly and unscheduled times.

Telephonic calls can be held from a distance but within eyesight when probation and parole officers need to conduct a check-in with a known offender who doesn’t have access to the internet or has other technological issues.

Responding to an incident

When police officers respond to a call for service for an IPV incident, they may not always be able to enter the residence because of department-issued guidelines.  Prioritizing the health and safety of officers along with victims is critical. 

Officers can ask individuals to step outside of the home to conduct assessments. 

First responders such as fire departments and EMS who wear personal protective equipment (PPE) can safely enter the home to assess for victim safety when police officers cannot gain access.

What role can technology play to safely streamline efforts to support victims of IPV?

Technology can be a game changer for IPV victims accessing help and services during social distancing. Calling 911 when in isolation can be nearly impossible with an abuser monitoring every move within the home.  If victims need help, developing alternative electronic means of communication is essential.  Victim advocates hold a key role in safety planning with survivors to identify how victims can email, text, online message, and call other friends and family to flag for help without arousing suspicion from the abuser. 

Advocates can also encourage victims to download apps, such as the smart 911 app, as part of their safety plan.  The smart 911 app holds contact information about the victim, which is then more readily available to dispatchers when victims call 911 from their smartphones.  Additionally, this is also an opportunity for jurisdictions to look into developing alternative ways to “call” 911, such as through text or email. During the web panel Hillar Moore, District Attorney of East Baton Rouge described their alternate 911 system.

Communicating to abusers that the criminal justice system does not stop with only an arrest is key.  Even modified operations of the courts and the prosecutor offices tells offenders that they will be held accountable for their offenses during a pandemic.  If a new IPV incident can move through the criminal justice system, the use of video conferencing at arraignments and other court dates will be essential.  Additionally, prosecutors can utilize similar technology in interviewing victims and gathering evidence.  Shifting to electronic filing for civil protective orders through the assistance of victim advocates will also convey to IPV victims that while they may be socially distancing, they still accessible legal options.

How can cities ensure that LGBTQ community and communities of color have access to IPV resources and information during a pandemic? 

This is an important time for mainstream domestic violence organizations and law enforcement to assess if their messaging is reaching everyone in their community.  It’s well understood that communities of color and other marginalized communities both experience IPV disproportionately, have fewer resources with which to address it, and lack access to and trust in formal systems and institutions. One way to strengthen this message is by collaborating with other local community organizations that work within the LGBTQ community and communities of color.  Leaders within local non-IPV community organizations are credible messengers who can relay to IPV victims what services are available to them.

Finding ways to boost outreach to all communities, or maintaining existing relationships, helps law enforcement and mainstream domestic violence organizations learn more about the local non-IPV community organizations and the communities they serve. 

In turn, non-IPV community organizations can receive virtual trainings on DV 101 and psychological first aid to increase their comfort in talking about violence in the home and sharing IPV-specific resources. For victims of IPV in underserved communities, the cross-training of organizations that they already interact may be their only access to this information.

For cities with a multi-disciplinary DV teams, it is important that the teams continue to meet even if by video conference. These teams can incorporate non IPV-specific organizations that work with underserved communities.  By broadening membership to these meetings, there is a stronger likelihood that a wide group of community leaders will learn about any new IPV protocols or policies which then gets shared with a larger spectrum of IPV victims in a city.  

Outside of law enforcement, what are other interventions that can be used by cities and how can victims learn about them?

Accessing the criminal justice system may not always feel like an option for all victims of IPV. To holistically address IPV, it must include the larger community. 

It is crucial to encourage victims to contact their local domestic violence hotlines to access emotional support, safety planning, and resources.  The entire community can participate in amplifying these numbers and websites.  Information for local domestic violence agencies can be posted and shared in grocery stores, laundromats, banks, and other essential business that are still open. Outside of physical spaces, social media posts by friends, religious leaders, politicians, and community organizers send the message that intimate partner violence is violence and attention will be given to it.

In addition to grocery stores, community members are also accessing food pantries in large numbers.   Because food pantries are a neutral and unsuspecting public space, victim advocacy and other community organizations have the opportunity to creatively partner with the pantries to help IPV victims safely pick up donated cell phones and pamphlets with listed resources and even safety plan while victims are there.

Community organizations and city governments can advocate with local internet providers to ensure free access to internet to IPV victims during the pandemic.  Like water and gas, internet is a public utility that every community member needs access to, but particularly IPV victims who depend on it as a lifeline to communicate with friends, family, and law enforcement about their safety. 

What are the ways foundations can help on this topic both short and long term?

Foundations are able to support local jurisdictions to create the structure to institute multi-disciplinary DV teams or to implement new technologies. NNSC has found that each city where we work has many individuals working hard to address IPV. For them, having a multi-disciplinary DV team is a great way to amplify everyone’s efforts. There are also organizations, such as NNSC, that assist jurisdictions in laying the groundwork for a multidisciplinary framework through research into the key issues, and through the implementation of a violence reduction strategy such as IPVI.

What are COVID-19 specific resources available to IPV victims?

CDC Guidelines for LE: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-law-enforcement.html

Vera Guide for LE: https://www.vera.org/downloads/publications/coronavirus-guidance-police-law-enforcement.pdf

Frequently Asked Questions Involving Courts and COVID-19: https://www.womenslaw.org/laws/preparing-court-yourself/frequently-asked-questions-involving-courts-and-covid-19

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV):  https://ncadv.org/blog/posts/what-dv-orgs-need-to-know-coronavirus Digital Services Toolkit: https://www.techsafety.org/digital-services-toolkit

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