Staying at Home When One’s Home is Dangerous by Dave Min & Jane Stoever

The mandate to “stay at home” during the COVID-19 pandemic is crucial for public health. It also presents us all with major challenges, whether it’s dealing with loneliness and depression, struggling through the massive economic downturn and its effects on our income and retirement security, home schooling our young children, or so many other new situations.

But for many Americans, including those in Orange County where we both live, the order to stay at home presents a danger that’s potentially even more fatal than COVID-19 — namely, the potential for fatal domestic violence. Statistically, the home is the most dangerous place for a woman in the United States, with domestic violence injuries surpassing the combined number of stranger rapes, muggings, and automobile accidents that women experience each year. Spending all of one’s time at home, when being at home means being under an abusive partner’s control and threat of violence, can be extremely dangerous.

Jane directs the Domestic Violence Clinic at UC Irvine’s Law School and co-chairs the Orange County Domestic Violence Death Review Team. What she is already seeing after just a few weeks of social distancing should give us all pause. Her clients in relationships with abusive partners talk about how they feel captive in their homes and in constant danger. The threat of domestic violence is being exacerbated by the high degree of economic stress that all of America is now experiencing. With the Federal Reserve projecting that potentially 47 million workers will lose their jobs, with unemployment reaching 32% in the coming weeks, families are worried, and this — along with all of the other fears surrounding the COVID-19 virus — creates more and more stress in our households, something that is magnified in those homes where domestic violence occurs.

Not only are we certain to see much more domestic violence during this time of Coronavirus, this violence is much more likely to be fatal, due to the prevalence of firearms in local homes. In nearly three-quarters of gun-owning households where domestic violence occurred, the abusive partner had either threatened to shoot or actually shot the abuse victim.[1] Moreover, numerous studies have made clear that those who own guns are more likely to commit domestic violence.[2] Unsurprisingly, when domestic violence is combined with gun ownership, this too often turns fatal.[3] A woman in an abusive relationship is 500% more likely to be murdered by her intimate partner if he owns a gun.[4] Simply put, those who own guns are more likely to be violent towards their intimate partners, and this violence is much more likely to be fatal than among those who do not own guns. This is likely to be a fatal combination for too many people in the coming days.

So what should we do about this? First, we can all regularly check on our friends, family members, neighbors, colleagues, and others through phone, email, and social media. Through the wonders of technology, we can still maintain our social connections even in a time of physical distancing. This can help not only by potentially relieving the stresses associated with the current times, but also by decreasing isolation, providing a source of regular outside contact for those who may be at risk. We can also donate to local community agencies, such as Laura’s House or Human Options, that deal with domestic violence.

We would also urge that the state and local judiciary take steps to ensure access to Domestic Violence Restraining Orders and Gun Violence Restraining Orders during this time, including through telephonic and electronic proceedings. DVROs and GVROs are critical tools that save lives by temporarily providing safety buffers and removing access to guns from those who pose immediate threat to commit serious violent acts against their intimate partners.

Finally, more resources are needed during this time. We applaud Congress for ensuring that as part of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, $45 million was allocated specifically for emergency housing and shelter to domestic violence survivors, along with additional funds for the National Domestic Violence Hotline. While our state government has generally been an important leader in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, we would urge Governor Newsom, the California legislature, and our local elected officials to follow Congress’s lead by ensuring that we are doing everything we can for the safety of domestic violence survivors during this time, including providing immediate funding for essential state and local domestic violence programs so they can maintain and expand their operations.

Dave Min is a candidate for California State Senate District 37 and a law professor at UC Irvine School of Law. Jane Stoever is also a professor at UCI Law, where she directs the Domestic Violence Clinic and the UCI Initiative to End Family Violence.

[1] Susan Sorenson, Firearm Use in Intimate Partner Violence: A Brief Overview, 30 Evaluation Rev. 229, 235 (2006).

[2] Susan B. Sorenson & Douglas J. Wiebe, Weapons in the Lives of Battered Women, 92 Am. J. Pub. Health 1412, 1414 (2004).

[3] Aaron J. Kivisto et al. Firearm Ownership and Domestic Versus Nondomestic Homicide in the U.S., 57 Amer. J. Preventive Medicine 311 (2019), available at https://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(19)30197-7/fulltext.

[4] Jacquelyn C. Campbell et al., Risk Factors for Femicide in Abusive Relationships: Results from a Multistate Case Control Study, 93 Am. J. Pub. Health 1089, 1090 (2003).

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