How Donors Can Support DV Survivors in COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic and current isolation at home of the majority of people across the globe has led domestic violence incidents to skyrocket. In Australia, Google reports a 75% increase in online searches for help with domestic violence. In China, the number of calls to helplines has tripled, according to the U.N., and here in the US, police departments and hotlines are reporting a 20%-35% increase in cases. Couple this data with the fact that many shelters nationwide are currently closed or not accepting new clients in order to protect the health and safety of staff and current residents, and the picture of this crisis quickly becomes much bleaker. 

However, COVID-19 itself is not the problem. The number one reason survivors in the US stay in or go back to abusive situations is financial insecurity. The Center for Disease Control estimates that domestic violence will cost a female survivor almost $104,000 in medical bills, legal fees, property damages, and other related costs. This six-figure debt is exacerbated by the fact that economic abuse (which can take many forms such as not being allowed to work, having little or no access to cash, and being forced to take on debt through physical threats) occurs in 99% of domestic violence cases. Survivors are trapped in violence because it is overwhelmingly expensive to overcome both the cost of being harmed and the devastatingly intricate impact of being financially abused. 

Then add in a global recession. 

COVID-19 has illuminated the severe lack of infrastructure that we have in the US to support survivors’ long-term safety. Domestic violence is a systemic problem and yet we have historically responded with short-term interventions – shelter stays, restraining orders, access to public welfare and hotlines – but these life-saving measures were only ever meant to be the first step. We need a continuum of care and support for survivors. We need an ecosystem that includes every pillar of our society coming together to play their part in supporting a survivors’ recovery – state and federal legislatures, banks and credit card companies, employers, health insurance companies, and others. If we don’t use this moment to transform our approach, COVID-19 will come and go and survivors will still be trapped. 

Philanthropy is well-positioned to lead the way here. Here are 4 simple next steps: 

  • Get cash directly into the hands of survivors to spend as they need: FreeFrom has just launched a $75,000 Safety Fund for Domestic Violence Survivors to get cash directly into the hands of survivors who need it in order to stay safe. As discussed, the number one reason survivors return to abusive situations is because of financial insecurity and the risk that survivors will return to an unsafe home is heightened right now with increased unemployment.
  • Provide organizations working to end intimate partner violence with flexible, multi-year general operating support: In recent weeks, we’ve seen many foundations step up and turn program-specific funding into general operating support, understanding that to address the crisis of this pandemic, nonprofit organizations need to be nimble. Domestic violence is also a crisis and the majority of organizations working to address it are chasing the same funding year after year with overwhelming project constraints and reporting requirements. Only with the flexibility to pivot, expand and transform our work as needed, can organizations working to end domestic violence build lasting and effective solutions.
  • Invest in the sustainability of the movement to end intimate partner violence: We cannot ensure that survivors have access to asset-building services if the case managers and advocates serving them are financially insecure and lacking the resources to support themselves. Philanthropy can help build a sustainable movement by funding living wage jobs for activists and advocates as well as by investing in financial coaching and asset-building training for staff so that they have the knowledge and skills to support their clients with everything from income building to credit repair and debt reduction.
  • Support social enterprises that employ survivors: Income is a lifeline for survivors and philanthropy is well-placed to invest in social enterprises and workforce development programs that employ survivors and help build community and skills. As we think beyond crisis intervention, this is the natural next step. Such programs include GIFTED by FreeFrom, AnnieCannons, Greyston Bakery, Thistle Farms and Made by DWC.

Sonya Passi

Author: Sonya Passi

Sonya Passi has been working to end gender-based violence since she was 16 years old and is the founder and CEO of FreeFrom (www.freefrom.org), a national organization in the US working with and for survivors to build an ecosystem that supports financial security and long-term safety for all.

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