October is here, and that means Domestic Violence Awareness month is upon us. This month is a designation that is observed annually in America to spread awareness about the important issue of domestic violence and help people connect with resources. But this year, with so many serious public health issues afflicting our nation, it would be easy for the event to pass by without receiving the attention it
In October 1987, the first Domestic Violence Awareness Month was observed. That same year marks the inception of the first national domestic violence toll-free hotline. In 1989, the U.S. Congress passed a law designating October as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. And it is still relevant today, as over 10 million adults experience domestic violence annually.
But domestic violence is an issue that often comes second to other problems, like COVID-19. Yet, we find that almost twice as many women were murdered by their current or ex-partner between 2001 and 2012 than American lives were lost in the war in Afghanistan and Iraq during the same period. Statistics like these clearly show the magnitude of the problem compared to the public attention the topic receives.
With attention comes education. Many people have been surprised to learn that the pandemic has made domestic violence more common and often more severe. Worldwide, surveys have shown domestic abuse rates spiking since January of 2020, jumping markedly compared to the same period in 2019. In cities across the U.S., police departments have reported increases in domestic violence incidents. For example, there was a reported increase of 18% in San Antonio, 22% in Portland, Oregon, and 10% in New York City.
This pandemic within the COVID-19 pandemic is being exacerbated by another public health emergency known as addiction. While 2020 brought the highest death toll our country has ever seen, thanks to the coronavirus, drug overdose rates played a major part as well. More than 93,000 people died by overdose last year, also a record-breaking tragedy. More people died last year from addiction than during the height of the opioid epidemic, which many experts believe is actually happening now.
Is it simply a coincidence that COVID-19 worsened the rates of both domestic violence and substance abuse? No, it isn’t.
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, as many as 60% of domestic violence crimes are committed by someone who struggles with substance use disorder. And this phenomenon isn’t just isolated to the perpetrators. Another report shows that 42% of victims used alcohol or drugs the day they were assaulted. Among those fatally attacked, toxicology screening found that around one-third of victims had alcohol in their system and around one-quarter had used drugs.
According to Marcel Gemme of addicted.org, a former intake specialist for substance abuse treatment facilities, there is a strong link between addiction and domestic violence. “Individuals become intoxicated and or under the influence of drugs, and violent and hostile emotions come to the surface. Alcohol and other drugs act on brain mechanisms that cause a high-risk individual to engage in aggressive and violent behavior.” In other words, using substances increases the chances of becoming both a perpetrator and a victim of domestic violence.
One of the problems that make it so difficult to eliminate domestic violence is fear. Victims are often cowed into staying in an abusive relationship and even shielding the abuser because they are afraid of the repercussions of attempting to leave or seek help. But thankfully, since 1987, there have been advances that have made it easier than ever for people to find support and get help with domestic violence.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers a website where anyone can get help anonymously. The person can call, chat, or text and access templates to create a “Safety Plan.” This tool helps potential victims lower the risk of being hurt by their partners. These tools can mean the difference between life and death for someone.
Whether it’s substance abuse, domestic violence, or both, don’t wait. Help is available.
Joseph Kertis is an experienced healthcare professional turned journalist. His experience in the field of substance abuse and addiction recovery provides a unique insight into one of our Nation’s most challenging epidemics. He utilizes this knowledge in his writing to give an expert viewpoint that spreads awareness through education.