The COVID-19 outbreak has heightened tensions in some relationships that are already strained. Anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues have worsened for many people as they cope with the ongoing emergency. Meanwhile, shelter-in-place orders have restricted movement in most states. This means that family and household members are spending long periods of uninterrupted time together. The combination of stress, isolation, and confinement can cause tempers to flare more quickly as people act in ways that they may regret. Domestic violence is a serious concern in any situation, but it is especially dangerous when a victim cannot easily leave the presence of the abuser.
While many institutions have closed during the coronavirus emergency, victims still can seek assistance from the police by calling 911 if abuse has occurred or if a perpetrator of domestic violence has violated a restraining order. Shelter-in-place orders do not prevent a domestic violence victim from leaving their home for safety. Many state and local governments have created specific exceptions to shelter-in-place orders to address this concern.
Getting a Restraining Order During the COVID-19 Outbreak
Courts have greatly restricted their operations during the COVID-19 outbreak, but many courts remain open for certain critical types of cases. Even if a courthouse building is not open, a court may be able to resolve these matters in “virtual courtrooms” through videoconferences or phone conferences. Critical types of cases usually include domestic violence restraining orders and other protection orders. Some courts also provide supplemental resources to domestic violence victims, such as self-help guidelines or the contact information for reputable domestic violence service organizations. Police departments, prosecutor’s offices, and other government agencies also may provide online resources. (If you are researching your options online, you may want to take steps to prevent the abuser from discovering your activity. For example, you should try to use a device that the abuser cannot access or monitor.)
Some courts have extended the duration of protection orders under emergency court rules. Extensions may apply both to new orders that are issued during the coronavirus emergency and to existing orders that are due to expire during the emergency. An extension may last for a set period, as in California, or for the rest of the state of emergency, as in New Hampshire. These rules and other court procedures frequently change as the crisis evolves, so you may want to check court websites recurrently to stay up to date on your options.
Assistance for Domestic Violence Victims
Organizations that support domestic violence victims have developed creative approaches to handle the COVID-19 emergency. Some of these organizations provide services through texts, emails, and online chat, which can help a victim evade an abuser who prevents them from making a phone call. Shelter-in-place orders typically allow domestic violence shelters to stay open, recognizing the public safety interest that they serve. You can find a shelter or support organization near you by accessing the online directory at the Office for Victims of Crime. For general information and advice, victims may want to investigate the resources of national organizations such as the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), and Futures Without Violence.