Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence and COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates the risk of violence and harassment directed at vulnerable workers stemming from systemic discrimination and inequality, particularly gender-based violence and harassment. Women make up two-thirds of frontline workers and are overwhelmingly the victims of domestic and intimate partner violence, which has spiked as a result of containment measures.

From our sisters in the Canadian Labor Congress: "[t]he recommendation that people stay in their homes, along with added financial pressure and stress, can elevate the risk of violence and further entrenches isolation, which increases opportunities for abusers to exert power and control.”

Everyone has a fundamental right to be free from violence and harassment during a crisis and always.

This pandemic shows clearly the urgent need to address underlying power dynamics at work that foster exploitation and abuse and to make our economic system more humane and responsive to human needs.

Resources for those experiencing domestic and/or intimate partner violence:

You deserve safety and respect. Please consider reaching out to a local women’s shelter or the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Whether or not you feel able to leave your current situation, they can help you develop a safety plan and think through your options. Everyone deserves support and compassion during this difficult time.

The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline offers confidential support and local resources for healing and recovery if you have been sexually assaulted. Sexual assault means any undesired contact.

Futures Without Violence has a comprehensive list of resources, including advice on creating safety plans, access to emergency housing and other support and guidance. It also produced a site aimed specifically at the workplace.

If you belong to a union, talk to your union representative about your leave options and how to develop a safety plan while you are at work. Some states have laws that require employers to give workers paid time off from work for reasons related to domestic violence, such as obtaining child custody, getting a restraining order or securing new housing. Find out if your state has those provisions.

Learn more about your legal rights and available economic resources during the pandemic at Legal Momentum.

Resources for those concerned about a coworker:

The National Domestic Violence Hotline has specific recommendations for how to reach out and offer support if you feel secure doing so (scroll to the bottom of the page in the link). Physical distancing calls for more social solidarity.

Resources for union representatives:

If you are a union representative, you can help member survivors develop a workplace safety plan and access support, including paid leave, employee assistance programs and other resources. Many survivors of domestic and/or intimate partner violence face retaliation at work, so be prepared to ensure their rights are respected. You can help them advocate for reasonable accommodations, such as shift changes, temporary relocation to different work areas or worksites or increased security measures.

Developing a relationship with a local crisis or women’s shelter now will help you be prepared to assist your members. You will know the experts to connect them to, and can get specialized advice and develop informed best practices. 

CWA created this helpful guidance for stewards and officers responding to domestic and intimate partner violence.

From the UK, the Trade Union Congress created an interactive guide for union “reps,” including helpful guidance on how to spot signs of abuse in coworkers and how to approach the issue. The resources listed are UK-specific but the advice is universal.

You can work with your employer to develop better policies to protect members. Workplaces Respond has resources that include best practices for workplace policies.

Workplaces Respond also has guidance for union representatives who are in the difficult situation of responding when members are perpetrators of domestic violence, perhaps even on the same worksite as their victim.

The Cornell Worker Institute has done important research and trainings with unions on engaging allies in the workplace in the fight against domestic and intimate partner violence, and work specifically aimed at developing male allies in the fight against domestic and intimate partner violence.

Unions around the world are demanding measures to protect workers who experience domestic and intimate partner violence. In France, the General Confederation of Workers is demanding that survivors be protected against layoffs and negotiating protection measures with employers. In South Africa, unions are demanding more mobile clinics to address gender-based violence along with COVID-19. Learn more from the Solidarity Center and the ITUC on union efforts from around the world.