Stay inside. 

Those words—the anthem of the COVID-19 pandemic—have been uttered with public health and safety in mind as a wave of stay-at-home orders has swept the world. But for survivors of domestic violence, that phrase resonates with particular difficulty: Abuse tends to peak during times of crisis. Social distancing cuts off victims from support networks. And, just as violence exacerbates isolation, isolation exacerbates violence. 

Across the Triangle, crisis centers are under new restrictions. They’re also scrambling to adjust their resources and meet new needs. 

On March 26, the Durham County District Attorney’s Office and the Durham Crisis Response Center put out a statement outlining signs of abuse as well as resources that victims can access during the stay-at-home order. 

“In pandemics such as COVID-19, isolation can be hard on anyone. It becomes particularly hard to be isolated with your abuser,” wrote DCRC executive director Kent Wallace-Meggs. “Abusers may tell survivors untruths about access to care, make them feel as if they have no way out or that no resources are open.”

AnnMarie Breen, a spokesperson for the Durham County Sheriff’s Office, says that the number of abuse cases reported in Durham County has “held steady” the past few weeks, with no discernable increase. 

But Valerie Sauer, director of education programs for The Compass Center in Chapel Hill, points out that the number of reported cases does not always reflect the number of crises. Quarantine, she says, can place increased pressure on a victim’s ability to seek help. 

“This is the result of people being unable to [seek help] because it’s unsafe to leave their houses or it’s unsafe to leave to make phone calls from their houses,” Sauer says. “I think once some of those quarantine guidances are lifted, then that’s when we’re going to see an increase.” 

Both Italy and China have seen an escalation in domestic abuse since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, and the National Domestic Violence Hotline told Time that a growing number of callers in the U.S. report abusers wielding the coronavirus against them by withholding resources. According to the release from the Durham DA’s office, signs of the abuse that might emerge during the stay-at-home order might look like the abusers spreading misinformation or withholding resources such as disinfectants, insurance cards, or financial resources. 

Isolation and psychological stress also correlate with unemployment. Tasha Sullivan, senior director of domestic violence services at Wake County’s InterAct Family Safety and Empowerment Center, says that data from InterAct’s Lethality Assessment Program—a tool launched in 2012 to help Wake County law enforcement identify high-risk domestic violence situations—points to a relationship between unemployment and intimate-partner violence. 

“A workplace is where folks—everyone, I think—derive a bit of pride, where folks feel like they have a bit of power and control,” adds Sauer. “Losing that outlet and losing that space where folks may be able to exercise power and control raises red flags. Seeing unemployment rates skyrocketing is something that we’re paying attention to and being concerned about.”

Previous eras of unemployment or national trauma—9/11, the 2008 recession, Hurricane Katrina—have also been linked to spikes in violence in the home. 

But there’s reason for hope this time around. Digital resources have come a long way in the past two decades. In the Triangle, crisis centers—The Compass Center, InterAct, and the Durham Crisis Response Center, among others—emphasize 24/7 call lines as resources available to survivors. Many support groups have moved online. And it’s still possible to seek legal and police help and to file for protective orders. 

In Orange County, Sauer says that while staff members are currently unable to accompany survivors to court for Domestic Violence Protective Order hearings, they are available to support them over the phone. In addition, an e-filing system is available at The Compass Center. With this system, survivors can meet over video chat with the clerk of court and the judge to discuss their protective orders. 

Wake County has a crucial resource in InterAct’s Solace Center, a sexual-assault forensic examination center that opened in 2011. For rape and sexual-assault survivors who might feel anxious about going to an emergency room—both because of overcrowding and possible COVID-19 exposure—the Solace Center, which has a full-time sexual-assault nurse examiner, is a safe option. 

The center is available to male and female survivors age 16 and older who have been assaulted within the past five days.

Despite that progress, the dangers of abuse in a time of isolation are still very real. 

“We recognize that home is not always a safe place for everybody,” Tasha Sullivan says. “We’re doing our best to figure out how we can help. It’s changing every day. But we’re adapting.”

Contact deputy arts and culture editor Sarah Edwards at 

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