A Year In…The Effects of Isolation in Domestic Violence Relationships


“We know that isolation can begin in the relationship as a form of control. COVID and other issues related to the pandemic have made isolation even more pronounced. Harbor House continues to work to make connections to survivors who find themselves wanting to reach out and take the steps towards healing. This is something we are all in together, isolation can no longer be the barrier to a well-deserved life,” stated Christy Coenen, Harbor House’s Sr. Manager of Support Services

About a year ago, shutdowns and safer at home orders began. School and work moved to a virtual/in-home environment and social outings were put on hold altogether.

We remained open at Harbor House but quickly saw a decrease in the individuals reaching out to us for safety and support. In an early blog post, ‘Safer at Home is Not Always A Safe Haven’ we outlined the initial effects that isolating at home had on individuals that are experiencing domestic violence and intimate partner violence. Now, a year later, we wanted to take a deeper look at how isolation and our new, at-home activities are impacting domestic violence victims and the issue of domestic violence as a whole.

COVID-19 has limited familiar support options for all of us, increasing social and functional isolation. Social isolation is defined as having a lack of social connections needed for resources—in this sense, it is the isolation from support systems. Socially isolated individuals are at higher risk for all forms of domestic violence. UN Women, an international organization, has dubbed this outcome the “shadow pandemic,” in which victims are literally trapped in their homes with their abusers with no physical access to family, friends, or any viable support services.

In the case of COVID-19, social isolation is even more amplified. The length of quarantine directly correlates to the degree of one’s mental and emotional consequences, such as depression and stress – both of these factors are well documented as contributors to domestic violence. Over the past year, the effects of the social distancing measures are deeply worrying and have been attributed to higher rates of domestic abuse in the United States as everyone is now more isolated from resources than ever before.

Here at Harbor House, we have been working hard to get ourselves in front of our community as much as we can, including press releases, Facebook live presentations, mailings, virtual trainings, and presentations to schools, employers, law enforcement, etc. We have created options for individuals seeking help so that they can feel comfortable receiving support, whether that is in person, on the phone, or virtually.

The long-term effects of COVID will linger for months and years to come. In the coming months, we will continue to see which ways the pandemic has affected our community mentally, physically, emotionally, and socially.

Unlike COVID-19, violence against women cannot be stopped with a vaccine. We can only fight it with deep-rooted and sustained efforts – by governments, communities and individuals – to change harmful attitudes, improve access to opportunities and services for women and girls, and foster healthy and mutually respectful relationships,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

At Harbor House, we are here and will remain here always, 24/7 for our community. If you or a loved one are in an unhealthy situation or even if you suspect an unhealthy relationship and want to ask questions to learn more, please call us at 920-832-1667. One of our advocates will be glad to listen, offer support, resources, and provide you with the information you are looking for.

They helped me to recognize and confirm that what I was living with was abuse, they helped me create a plan to leave, they provided emotional support for myself and for my children. I cannot thank them enough for all of the support. I am not sure I would have left without it and I tell everyone that I know about Harbor House and about how helpful they were to me. Harbor House was a safe place to talk and I appreciated the non-judgmental nature of everyone I worked with there. I had been talking about leaving my husband for years and being able to work through a plan of how to do that is what really helped me actually follow through and do it. My future will be better in part because of Harbor House,” a client of Harbor House in 2020.

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