First, how have COVID and recent changes impacted the risks?
- Increased access to victims
- Increased control of required documents or items (driver’s license, prescription medication)
- Decreased outside interaction and/or intervention
- Increased dependence on others (meals, finances, consumable items)
- Increased mental health risks resulting from isolation, stressors, apprehension and uncertainty
- Decreased virtual and/or in-person resources
- Decreased options for support (shelter, counseling, medical care)
- Increased online activity
Risks for Children
With school and work closures, routines have been drastically altered and much of what we knew before has changed. For example, a report by the South Carolina Department of Safety analyzed the time of day sexual assaults typically took place over a four-year period (2004-2008). The report found that “the pattern of victimization by time of day was different for children and adults. Victimization of children was most frequent at midnight, but also peaked at 8 am, noon and 3 pm.”
These times, 8 am, noon, and 3 pm, all correlate to the time of day children are home from school. This indicates abuse in the early mornings (before a parent goes to work, or a child to school), the early afternoons (when early-age children are home from daycare), and late afternoons (when most children return home). If we are to look at the factors surrounding these times, we can assume that in-person schooling often kept children safe during specific hours of the day. The risk of prolonged abuse is also amplified by the sheer fact that outside interventions, such as teacher reports to child protective services, are largely absent.
“Social distancing measures will compel children to spend most of their time at home with their parents, who are often the main perpetrators (about 77% of cases, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services in 2018). The youngest children are the most vulnerable to maltreatment (more than one-quarter of victims are below age three (US Department of Health and Human Services 2018). Therefore, in light of the COVID-19 crisis and subsequent childcare closures, the question is whether and to what extent childcare provision acted as a protective shield against child maltreatment before the crisis.”Elisabetta De Cao, Malte Sandner 08 May 2020
Child abuse is not the only concern, as these measures have also created a perfect storm for family violence as a whole.
“It’s not uncommon for domestic violence abusers to isolate their victims as an act of control or to reduce the opportunity for disclosure of abuse, and the current societal conditions are likely furthering the impact of these actions. Perpetrator-imposed restrictions and continued surveillance of social media, the internet, and cell phones may also limit the ability of victims to reach out for help electronically. Further, schools, libraries, and churches are all critical staples in family routines around the globe. Families who are victimized by violence or abuse in the home indicate these institutions often offer critical emotional support and provide opportunity for a “reprieve” from their abusive home environment – a reprieve they are no longer getting at this time.”Campbell A. M. (2020). An increasing risk of family violence during the Covid-19 pandemic: Strengthening community collaborations to save lives. Forensic Science International. Reports, 2, 100089. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fsir.2020.100089
The article (cited in the quote above) also notes that substance abuse can lead to family violence in different ways than before, stating, “alcohol abuse, a commonly reported risk factor for family violence, has been linked to an accumulation of stressful events and a lack of social support (both likely occurring as a result of Covid-19) . With bars and restaurants being limited to take-out service only in many communities, family violence perpetrators who abuse alcohol may be even more likely to do so in the home, likely increasing risk for the entire household.“
Another contributing factor that will be relevant long after lockdowns are lifted is the financial burden that remains in households where providers have lost jobs. Many are looking for work, still working from home (and needing more household supplies, costing more money), and prices for some necessities (like gas) are on the rise. This will continue to strain families for an unknown period of recovery, thus extending the stressors that might contribute to abuse.
Child Risk Categories:
- Physical and Emotional Maltreatment
- Gender-based violence (GBV)
- Mental health and psychosocial distress
- Child labor
- Unaccompanied and separated children
- Social exclusion
Physical and Emotional Maltreatment
- Reduced supervision and neglect of children
- Increase in child abuse and domestic/interpersonal violence
- Poisoning and other danger risks of injuries to children
- Pressure on or lack of access to child protection services
- Childcare/school closures, continued work requirements for caregivers, illness, quarantine, isolation of caregivers
- Increased psychosocial distress among caregivers and community members
- Availability and misuse of toxic disinfectants and alcohol
- Increased obstacles to reporting incidents
Gender Based Violence (GBV)
- Increased risk of sexual exploitation of children, including sex for assistance, commercial sexual exploitation of children and forced early marriage
- Pressure on or lack of access to child protection/GBV services
- Reduced family protection of children
- Reduced household income and/or reliance on outsiders to transport goods and services to the community
- Girls’ gender-imposed household responsibilities such as caring for family members or doing chores
- Increased obstacles to reporting incidents and seeking medical treatment or other supports
Mental Health and Psychosocial Distress
- Distress of children due to the death, illness, or separation of a loved one or fear of disease
- Worsening of pre-existing mental health conditions
- Pressure on or lack of access to mental health professional support services
- Increased stress levels due to isolation in treatment units or home-based quarantine
- Children and parents/caregivers with pre-existing mental health conditions may not be able to access usual supports or treatments
- Quarantine measures can create fear and panic in the community, especially in children, if they do not understand what is happening
- Increased engagement of children in hazardous or exploitative labor
- Loss or reduction in household income
- Opportunity or expectation to work due to school closure
Unaccompanied and Separated Children
- Becoming unaccompanied or child head of household
- Being placed in institutions
- Loss of parents/caregivers due to disease
- Isolation/quarantine of caregiver(s) apart from child or children
- Children sent away by parents to stay with other family in non-affected areas
- Social stigmatization of infected individuals or individuals/groups suspected to be infected
- Increased risk/limited support for children living/working on the street and other children already at risk
- Increased risk/limited support to children in conflict with the law, including those in detention
- Social and racial discrimination of individuals/groups suspected to be infected
- Disproportionate impact on more disadvantaged and marginalized groups
- Closure/inaccessibility of basic services for vulnerable children and/or families
- Disruption to birth registration processes due to quarantine
Response During the Recovery
According to the World Health Organization, the following steps can help ensure safety of the community and help preserve its ability to prevent and respond to violence:
- Community networks and programs that addressed violence before the disaster should be identified, revitalized and strengthened through training and support.
- Efforts to address violence must engage men, women and children of the affected community in the planning phase, taking care to get input from groups who tend to be overlooked in program development, such as abused women and persons with disabilities.
- Violence should be included in any surveillance system that is established.
- Community education and awareness campaigns are useful for informing residents how to report acts of violence, what services are available and where they can go for care. Campaigns can also be used to influence social and cultural norms related to violence.
Pee Dee Coalition and other organizations dedicated to fighting violence are continuously working to identify risks and provide adequate responses. It is important that we not let this second pandemic be known as a silent pandemic. Reach out to Pee Dee Coalition today to find more information or resources for overcoming challenges imposed by COVID-19.
If the rate of reporting was low before the pandemic, and there is evidence of an increase in domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse, we can only assume that the current rate of reporting is a drastic under-representation of the true number of occurrences that have taken place and that will continue to take place.
National Taskforce To End Sexual & Domestic Violence: Survivors of Domestic and Sexual Violence are at Heightened Risk Now, and Will Remain So Long After the Current Crisis
The potential impact of the COVID-19 on child abuse and neglect: The role of childcare and unemployment
Children’s Trust of South Carolina
Children’s Trust: 2020 Kids Count Data Book I Trends in Child Well-Being
Jackson Health System: The Risk of Sexual Assault in the Home During a Pandemic