Outreach workers in Syria are worried about the vulnerability of women and girls under curfew. © UNFPA Syria

Domestic Abuse: How to respond?


Any household member may potentially perpetrate or become a victim of domestic abuse regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, faith or other social group. Therefore, potential victims include an intimate partner, a child or other relative. In response to this threat of escalating domestic abuse, the Secretary-General has called for the creation of safe ways for household members to seek support without alerting their abusers, including emergency warning systems in pharmacies and grocery stores.

Working from home during an extended period may heighten stress and anxiety. Although being with immediate family members and loved ones could alleviate feelings of isolation, confinement may aggravate pre-existing inter-familial tensions where long-term abusive patterns are now exacerbated. Confinement may also create new tensions, resulting in domestic abuse.

Risks while isolating due to COVID-19

  • The stay-at-home restrictions that have resulted from COVID-19 have led to what amounts to forced co-habitation in confined spaces for an indefinite period – this may increase the risk of Domestic Abuse.
  • Domestic Abuse victims, even without the pandemic situation and social distancing measures, already tend to be isolated from their friends, family, and support networks.
  • Perpetrators of abuse are using the stay-at-home situation as an opportunity to further exert control over their victims.
  • Stress is not the cause of Domestic Abuse but can serve to aggravate and catalyze Domestic Abuse in situations such as the one we are experiencing.
  • Staying home may be more dangerous than the coronavirus itself — and experts foresee added stress possibly leading to explosive episodes of violence.

Tips for coping with stress at home:

  • Be aware that social isolation, quarantine, and distancing can have impacts on you and your family’s psychological well-being.
  • To the extent possible, reduce sources of stress by:
    • Seeking information from reliable sources and reducing the time spent consuming news (1-2 times per day, rather than every hour).
    • Seeking support from family and friends via phone, email, text, etc.
    • Trying, to the extent possible, to maintain daily routines and make time for physical activity and sleep.
    • Using relaxation exercises (e.g. slow breathing, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, grounding exercises) to relieve stressful thoughts and feelings.
    • Engaging in activities that in the past have helped with managing adversity.

Actions to take if you or your family members are experiencing violence:

If you are experiencing violence you may find it helpful:

  • To reach out to supportive family and friends who can provide support to help you to manage stress and deal with a range of responsibilities including food supply, childcare, etc.
  • To develop a safety plan for yourself and your children in case the violence escalates. This includes keeping numbers of neighbors, friends and family whom you can call or go to for help; have accessible important documents, money, a few personal things to take with you if you need to leave immediately; and plan how you might exit the house and access help (e.g. transport, location).
  • To keep information about domestic abuse hotlines, social workers, child protection or nearest police station, shelters or support services that are accessible. Be discrete so that your partner or family members do not find out and you can remain safe.
  • Review the guides below developed specifically for UN personnel and their dependents

(Source: WHO publication entitled "COVID-19 and violence against women: What the health sector/system can do")

Guides for UN Personnel

Guidance for Victims/Survivors of Domestic Abuse 

United to Support: How to respond to Domestic Abuse: A guide for UN Personnel  


New York area

Watch video of panel discussion: United Together: Our workplace response to domestic abuse during COVID-19