Expert Q&A: Domestic violence during the pandemic

Posted on February 18, 2021

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Dr. Christine Murray

“A pandemic within a pandemic.” 

That’s how some have described domestic violence in the times of COVID-19. 

Stay-at-home orders have left many victims trapped inside with their abusers. Confusion about whether agencies are open and operating has likely played a role in decreased calls to domestic violence hotlines.

While it will take time to sift through data and get an accurate picture of how the pandemic is impacting domestic violence, one thing is clear: The risks associated with domestic violence have increased. 

In the Q&A below, Dr. Christine Murray, director of the UNC Greensboro Center for Youth, Family, and Community Partnerships, sheds more light on this important issue. 

How has the pandemic affected domestic violence here in the United States?

The potential for violence and abuse is higher when you have people who are stuck at home with an abuser. Isolation is a real risk factor, and it’s also a tactic that abusers use – they cut people off from friends and family. Economic stress, parenting stress, and being disconnected from support networks are all risk factors for domestic violence. 

In many communities, the numbers of people reaching out, especially at the beginning of the pandemic, may have taken a dip. When people do reach out, it is often in more severe or dangerous cases. This suggests that victims may be less likely to reach out for support until they are in grave danger. 

Local agencies are making a lot of changes. For example, the Guilford County Family Justice Center here in Greensboro and High Point started offering a chat option for potential victims to reach out for help. Many shelters have had to lower their capacities to keep people distanced and safe, which may make it even more difficult for victims to leave a dangerous situation. 

Tell me more about your work around domestic violence. 

Domestic violence has been a primary focus of my research, teaching, and community engagement since I arrived at UNCG in 2005. A lot of my research is community engaged, in partnership with different community organizations. My main areas of focus in this work include empowering and understanding the experiences of survivors. 

We’ve done a series of research studies looking at the long-term experiences of survivors – how they overcome abuse, and some of the challenges and opportunities they have experienced long after the abuse. This work has informed “See the Triumph,” a social media and community outreach campaign that uses survivors’ stories and experiences to help challenge the stigma around domestic violence. 

Locally, I’ve done a lot of work with the Guilford County Family Justice Center. I was part of the planning committee, and I also chair the data and outcomes committee so we can measure the impact of the center. 

In December, I released my book “Triumph Over Abuse: Healing, Recovery, and Purpose After an Abusive Relationship.” I believe there still are many needs for more resources for people currently facing abuse, as well as those who are dealing with the long-term effects of it, and so I know that working on this issue will continue throughout the rest of my career.

What are some misconceptions about domestic violence? 

There’s a big misconception about who experiences domestic violence or other forms of abuse in relationships. Many people have stereotypes in their minds about who can be a victim or who can be an abuser. Anyone can experience violence or abuse, regardless of socioeconomic status or educational background. And there’s no set formula for the type of person who can be an abuser, and that presents some challenges because people may not recognize abuse because it doesn’t match these stereotypes. 

There are also some misconceptions about what abuse actually entails. It’s not always severe physical violence. There may be financial abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse. Abusive relationships can be very different from the image we have in our heads. 

What are some resources for victims or survivors of domestic violence? 

Some helpful resources include the following:

Interview by Alyssa Bedrosian, University Communications


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