Domestic Violence and Coronavirus: A Recipe for Potential Disaster

March 16, 2021

By Jill K. Sanders, Esq.

Across the country, citizens have been under stay-at-home orders due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Even now that pandemic restrictions are being lifted, some are still staying home to avoid potential exposure. Many families have enjoyed the extra time together. However, for some this has led to an increase in domestic violence. In some cases, home is not a place of safety – rather, its where their abuser lives.


Reasons Why Domestic Violence May Increase

When people stay at home, they can become separated from their support systems. For example, some domestic violence victims may rely on the support of family, friends, and co-workers with whom they do not live. And the signs that they are being abused are less likely to be noticed if the victim continues to stay at home.

Further, the coronavirus pandemic may provide an excuse why a domestic violence victim doesn’t want to see friends and family. Moreover, an abuser may capitalize on coronavirus precautions, knowing their victim won’t be seeing their family, friends, or co-workers.

In addition to this isolation, the pandemic restrictions may increase stressors that may be a contributing factor in domestic violence situations. Staying home may lead to an increase in substance or alcohol abuse, and it can affect mental health conditions. The pandemic has also seen an increase in unemployment and financial insecurity. While such things are never an excuse for domestic violence, they can certainly exacerbate an already existing problem.


Recent Pandemic-Related Domestic Violence Cases

Amy-Leanne Stringfellow was a personal trainer who had served in Afghanistan and had been named Miss Great Britain in a bodybuilding contest. She and Terence Papworth had become engaged after dating just over a year, yet they broke up in May 2020. This was after Papworth allegedly assaulted Stringfellow and threatened her and her daughter with a shotgun. Family noted that Stringfellow was becoming distant, using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse not to stay isolated.

On June 5, Stringfellow lied to family and said she was having a girls’ weekend away. In reality, she went to Papworth’s house. Papworth is said to have confessed to killing Stringfellow on that date. He’s alleged to have slit her throat with a sword, strangled her, and smashed her head with a broken vodka bottle. Papworth claims Stringfellow provoked him, an excuse common in domestic violence cases.

The coronavirus is not only separating people from their support systems. Indeed, many court proceedings are now being held virtually, which in some domestic violence cases is problematic. For example, earlier this month in Michigan, Coby Harris was in virtual court via Zoom for a preliminary hearing in his criminal case. Harris had been charged with assaulting his then-girlfriend. The girlfriend was testifying at the hearing, also via Zoom.

Yet at the preliminary hearing, the prosecutor noticed that the ex-girlfriend was looking off camera and appeared to be getting coached in her testimony. Despite Harris and the ex-girlfriend claiming to be in different locations, the prosecutor requested that steps be taken to assure the ex-girlfriend was safe. As such, police officers went to the girlfriend’s home. Then, it was discovered Harris was in the apartment in violation of an Order of Protection, only weeks after he is alleged to have seriously assaulted her.


What Can Be Done?

Those who provide services for both victims and abusers must make themselves available despite coronavirus precautions. Moreover, these resources must be mobilized to continue to support those in these situations. And mental health and substance/alcohol abuse providers must continue to treat patients despite the lock-downs.

Some have also suggested that other resources be tapped to provide additional resources to domestic violence victims. For example, coronavirus testing and vaccine sites can be staffed with personnel trained to spot potential abuse. And other public places, such as grocery stores, can implement reporting platforms. Most importantly, survivors of domestic violence and their advocates must be included in the conversation about how to address this concern during the coronavirus pandemic.