Shelter-in-place, lockdown, and isolation orders raise fears and concerns for victims of domestic violence and child abuse—where the greatest danger is often in the home.
These social distancing requirements and stay-at-home orders make it even more difficult for domestic violence victims to seek help and vulnerable children to find safety. If you’re a victim or know someone who is, help is available.
Here are the resources you'll find in this article:
Victims of domestic violence face more social isolation in general. Abusers have more tactics at their disposal when victims can’t easily get away from home. Government officials and domestic violence organizations are encouraging victims to seek help. Even with schools and venues closed down, courts and many domestic violence organizations, hotlines, and shelters are available to help. Read below for more information on court and domestic violence organization operations during COVID-19. Victims can also seek help from law enforcement and emergency services.
For child abuse victims, stay-at-home orders keep the abuse hidden behind closed doors. The army of mandatory reporters—teachers, doctors, daycare providers, coaches, counselors—can't report abuse they don't know about. Cities, counties, and states are reporting an alarming drop in the number of suspected child abuse reports, and they hope community members and neighbors will help keep an eye out for suspected abuse. Read below for more information on reporting suspected child abuse and seeking help from law enforcement.
Courts are limiting hours of operation but many remain open (either physically or virtually) for high priority cases—which usually includes emergency protection or restraining orders.
Video and phone hearings. Even if a courthouse remains closed to the public, judges may hear emergency petitions by phone or videoconferencing. New York City’s Family Court has five “virtual courtrooms” where judges hear child protection cases and family offense petitions requesting protection orders by videoconference. In Anchorage, Alaska, judges will hear petitions for protective orders over the phone. Many states have moved to video or telephonic appearances for court hearings. Some courts are starting to hear more requests in person.
Emergency court rules. In some states, courts have issued emergency rules that extend the expiration dates of protection orders. California’s emergency court rules extend the expiration date of protective orders issued or set to expire during the state of emergency—providing that emergency orders remain in effect for 30 days and other protective orders automatically extend up to 90 days. In New Hampshire, orders for protection set to expire during the state of emergency are extended to the last day of the state of emergency.
Court self-help websites. Some courts have self-help websites, domestic abuse service centers, or a victims’ service center with additional resources. The Maryland court website directs persons seeking domestic violence protective orders to call the court commissioner in their county. And the website emphasizes: “Your request will be heard.”
If you’re having difficulty navigating the court website, look for links to COVID-19 or coronavirus resources, self-help centers, help with filing protection orders, or online chat services.
Your local police department, county services office, or prosecutor’s office might also have a victims' assistance or domestic abuse service center. You can also check your local or state's agency for child protective services (sometimes referred to by different names, such as child welfare, family and children services, social services, or human services) for resources and information.
Keep checking court websites. Check your local court’s website for information on emergency rules, hours of operation, and how to file petitions for protection orders. And continue to check back as courts update emergency orders and add or expand the use of virtual courts and remote appearances. You can use Nolo's 50-state tracker to find information and links to your state court's website.
Emergency 911 services remain available during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have a protection order in place and the abuser violates the order, contact the police. If you suspect someone of abusing a child, contact your local or state child abuse hotline and, in emergencies, contact the police or 911.
As stay-at-home (and now safer-at-home) orders get extended, know that they still have exceptions for seeking emergency services and safe shelter. For example, the first exception listed in Minnesota’s stay-at-home order states that individuals at risk of domestic violence are “allowed and urged to leave their home” and relocate to a safe place.
To find your city or state’s stay-at-home order, check the websites for your state or local health department, city or mayor's office, police department, or governor’s office. Many government offices have a frequently answered questions (FAQ) section that summarizes the order.
During COVID-19, shelters are working hard to remain open, and many domestic violence organizations are taking calls and emails. Contact them if you need help.
Domestic violence organizations are also working to develop new strategies to support victims during the coronavirus public emergency, including offering hotline services via online chat or texting in case victims cannot call with an abuser at home.
Below are links to organizations with information on how to stay safe during the coronavirus outbreak:
The alarming drop in reported child abuse cases raises concerns about what could be happening to children behind closed doors. With stay-at-home orders in place and schools and daycares closed, the typical reporters of suspected child abuse aren't interacting with vulnerable children as usual. State governors, law enforcement, and child advocates urge neighbors and communities to keep an eye on vulnerable children and report suspected child abuse.
Below are resources for reporting suspected abuse and risk factors to look for:
Updated: May 26, 2020.