The Biden Administration has reportedly begun distributing $200 million in aid it set aside to support survivors of domestic violence who have been crushed by the pandemic.
According to the New York Times, the funds were included in the $1.9 trillion covid relief package Democrats passed in March, which stipulated that the money should go toward advocacy groups and housing vouchers, so that those who were trapped at home with their abusers can find safe housing as the pandemic begins to recede. The funding will also prioritize Alaskan villages, where survivors of domestic abuse are even more physically isolated from potential sources of help.
“Gender-based violence and the risk factors that contribute to it, like unemployment and isolation, have risen during the pandemic,” Rosie Hidalgo, a senior adviser serving on the White House Gender Policy Council, told the Times.
Mandates to “stay the fuck home” throughout the pandemic—particularly vehement in its worst months—relied on the assumption that home was a safe space, which is not true for many people, but especially for people experiencing domestic abuse. Even just a few days into the lockdowns in the United States, advocates running hotlines and shelters told Jezebel they had started to hear from survivors who said their abusers were “leveraging covid-19 to further isolate, increase fear, and manipulate.”
“Many of the strategies ... [survivors] keep in their back pocket when they live in abusive situations, are feeling really limited,” Katie Ray-Jones, CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, said in March 2020. “We’ve started to hear and see that from people who are like, ‘I’m thinking about calling the shelter but I don’t know if it’s safe to go to the shelter because of potential exposure.’ Some people are saying, ‘I just left the shelter and I’m going to return home to my abusive partner because I’m fearful of being exposed in the shelter.’”
A few weeks later, the United Nation reported a global surge in domestic violence.
As it is, domestic abuse survivors already face significant financial barriers to leaving an abusive situation, and for many people they were exacerbated by the pandemic. Women suffered the bulk of job losses over the last year-plus, and abusers—known for stealing money from their victims as a form of control—may have taken their unemployment benefits or stimulus checks.
Life may feel like it’s finally returning to “normal” for some of us, but for domestic violence survivors, “normal” requires building a new life from scratch.