No one is immune from the virus that is domestic abuse


April 8, 2020

By Suzie Boutilier

Now that everyone is being directed to practice social distancing and to self-quarantine, what does this mean for victim/survivors (adults and children) of domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse is a pattern of controlling behavior, in the context of a current or former relationship, in which one person purposefully seeks to limit the human and civil rights of their partner and/or family. The actions of the abusive person are purposeful and chosen, and are based on a belief system that tells them that they are entitled to behave in this way. In 2019, advocates from the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence (MCEDV) network worked with 13,759 victim/survivors statewide (MCEDV, 2020). Victim/Survivors of domestic abuse are from every walk of life, regardless of gender identity, age, sexual orientation, race, religion or economic background.

People who use abusive tactics in their relationships perpetrate physical, sexual, emotional, financial, and mental abuse, which includes using intimidation, isolation, and gas lighting (crazy-making) techniques to maintain power and control over their victims. The effects that this behavior has on victims are devastating, draining, and overwhelming.  Dealing with these behaviors on a daily basis along with the concerns of the COVID-19 crisis can increase victim/survivors feelings of loneliness, fear, and hopelessness.

One of the tactics that abusive partners use to control their victims is to isolate them from family, friends, co-workers, and services. People who are abusive already make these vital components of someone’s support system hard or impossible to access. Victim/Survivors have increased difficulty with planning for their safety now that family, friends, and co-workers may no longer be physically accessible and most social service organizations are only able to offer services over the phone.

As part of the COVID-19 protocol for domestic violence resource centers in Maine, most advocates are only able to have contact with victim/survivors by phone or other forms of technology. As a result, advocates are unable to help victim/survivors fill out paperwork face-to-face, accompany victim/survivors to court for protection from abuse filing/hearings, accompany a victim/survivor to the emergency room, or offer a safe place for a victim/survivor to relax for a few minutes, enjoy a cup of coffee, and breathe.  In addition, many domestic violence shelters are at capacity as an isolation practice. Where are victim/survivors supposed to go? They may hesitate to reach out to family or friends because they are worried that they will spread the virus to an elderly relative or someone who has underlying conditions.

One of the misconceptions that society asks of victims is, “why don’t they just leave?”  Not only is that not a viable solution because leaving does not necessarily stop the abuse if the abusive partner decides to continue being abusive, it is now almost nearly impossible for victim/survivors to leave because of the restrictions implemented because of the COVID-19 protocol. While stress does not cause an abusive partner to abuse their family, it certainly does give abusive people an excuse to escalate their destructive behavior. The courts are still addressing protection from abuse orders but have reduced courthouse hours and are limiting or postponing any family matters until we are past this health crisis. Pro bono legal services either have cancelled clinics for the time being or have restrictions in accessing their services.

The impact of this isolation can be significant for children. Normally, most children are able to go to school and process what is happening at home with teachers or guidance counselors. They are able to use school and extracurricular activities as a distraction from their home life. These activities can be a part of their life in which they have some control. Now what do they do?

How can you be helpful? First, victim/survivors need people who will listen to them and not tell them what they need to do. The victim/survivors are the experts of their lives and are capable of making decisions regarding their safety. Victim/Survivors benefit from supportive people who will validate their feelings, ask clarifying questions, and offer options and resources. Other things that people can do are reach out to a victim/survivor, keep the lines of communication open, offer money for a hotel/food if they need to flee, be a safe place for the kids to go to if needed, encourage them to call the police, and suggest they call a 24/7 domestic abuse helpline.

Keep in mind that victim/survivors may need help problem solving ways to get a free moment alone to call a domestic abuse hotline. If this is not possible, there are online chat options available.

How can domestic violence advocates be helpful? The Partners for Peace helpline is available 24/7 at 1-800-863-9909. Partners for Peace advocates can be helpful with safety planning, finding a safe place to go, creative problem solving, and assistance with protection from abuse orders. Advocates will listen nonjudgmentally and offer resources and services by technology. Domestic violence advocates can help with just about anything over the phone that they would typically do in person. Domestic violence helplines are not only available to victims and survivors, they are also available for concerned friends, family members, neighbors, service providers, medical staff, law enforcement and the community at large. If a victim/survivor is not able to safely get to the phone, call on their behalf.


The Maine statewide helpline number is 1-866-834-HELP. Deaf or hard of hearing? Call 1-800-437-1220. Calling not safe? The following chat options are available:

The National Domestic Violence Online Chat (24/7):

New Hope For Women Online Chat (Mondays-Fridays, 1-5PM):

Safe Voices Online Chat (Mondays-Fridays, 8AM-4PM):


If you or someone you know needs help with safety planning and support, reach out to trained advocates who are there to help. We are all in this together. You are not alone.


About the Author: Suzie Boutilier has worn many different hats in the movement to end domestic violence, but she is currently the Domestic Violence/Child Protective Services Liaison at Partners for Peace. Suzie has over twenty years of advocacy experience in the movement in Maine.


To learn more about the effects of this pandemic on survivors of domestic abuse, we recommend the following articles:


Works Cited

MCEDV. (2020). Retrieved from Statistics: