This article was written by a PSL member who is employed at a Utah-based nonprofit domestic violence service agency.
Reports of domestic violence have spiked in Utah and across the country in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The state has seen large increases in dispatch calls and calls to the state’s crisis hotlines. The Salt Lake City Police Department alone has reported a 33 percent increase in domestic violence reports in the past two weeks.
COVID-19 and domestic violence in Utah
This pandemic, and the concurrent downturn of the U.S. economy, is greatly impacting the lives and safety of women and children. This is true of any crisis. But COVID-19 also has the effect of forcing more and more families into isolation and confinement in their homes, and this heightens the danger of domestic violence for many already at risk.
For those who live under the threat of violence in their homes, the daily escape to work or school can be essential to avoiding abuse or getting help. Utah’s recent “stay home, stay safe” initiative may be essential in curbing the spread of Coronavirus, but it also puts domestic violence victims at greater risk of more frequent, and reportedly more severe, abuse.
Women in Utah are already at a greater risk of violence at home. In the United States, one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. In the state of Utah, that number increases to one in three.
It is essential for those in abusive situations to be able to seek shelter. Statewide, emergency shelter and crisis hotline workers have reported a massive increase in individuals seeking assistance. Domestic violence hotlines have been ringing constantly with individuals seeking shelter to flee their abusive homes. The Utah Domestic Violence Coalition reported a 50 percent increase in calls last week.
Nonprofit shelters across Utah are operating at or above capacity to meet the demand for emergency housing. Due to this increase in individuals requiring assistance, many are unable to follow strict social distancing and quarantine requirements because of a lack of physical space and beds. Some have dwindling supplies of equipment like hand sanitizer, gloves, and soap. Others, like the new emergency DV shelter in Logan, Utah, have been forced to cut their capacity. That means that for the city of Logan, with a population of over 50,000, there are only 16 beds in the single shelter for those fleeing domestic violence.
The La Riva/Peltier presidential campaign and the Party for Socialism and Liberation have made the call that “as many housing units as needed should be provided for victims of domestic violence.” Over 6 percent of rentals in Utah are currently vacant, and the state is in the midst of a construction boom, but officials have released no plan to open any of these homes to women and children that are currently experiencing domestic violence.
According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, on just one day in 2019, 11,336 requests for help from domestic violence victims to service agencies across the country went unmet due to a lack of resources. Nearly 70 percent of these unmet requests were for housing or shelter.
Capitalism fails women and domestic violence survivors
Crises of capitalism disproportionately impact the groups that are already super-oppressed by the system, including women, oppressed nationalities and immigrants as well as those experiencing poverty and housing insecurity. These crises illuminate the lack of infrastructure, resources and meaningful response from the capitalist ruling class to provide for people’s needs.
In the 2008 financial and housing crisis, domestic violence reports spiked as unemployment, evictions and economic destitution reigned. The 2016 study “Intimate Partner Violence in the Great Recession” reported that times of social and economic turmoil see large and widespread increases in rates of intimate partner violence and that economic instability and stress is one of the single most dangerous risk factors for women experiencing abuse. Moreover, already insufficient social services for abuse victims are stretched beyond their breaking point during times of crisis. In fact, while the ruling class was more than willing to provide trillions of dollars to bail out Wall Street and large corporations in 2008, budgets for social services and public benefits were continuously slashed.
Impact of capitalism on domestic violence, the need for socialism
The dynamics of domestic violence commonly include isolation and fear. A pandemic, or other social or economic emergency, can intensify these elements, but it is important to understand that sexist violence is not caused by a virus.
Domestic violence and violence against women are a vestige of women’s historic status as property. It is a symptom of their continued subordinate status in society today. Global capitalism, far from solving the historic inequality of women, has incorporated violence against women into its business practices and its imperialist military strategies. Capitalism breeds and feeds off of the sexism, misogyny and repressive violence that are endemic worldwide.
Rates of domestic violence fell to “acceptable” levels for capitalism after the 2008 crisis, and the same may be true after COVID-19 and its coupled recession. However, sexism and all other forms of oppression can never be fully eradicated under capitalism. Meaningfully addressing violence against women means organizing and fighting for a system that isn’t built on their oppression.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available at 1-800-779-7233 for individuals who are feeling unsafe or experiencing domestic violence.