Ask the Expert: How is COVID-19 Affecting Victims of Domestic Violence?

Content Warning: This article includes discussion around topics of assault, domestic violence, harassment, safety, and well-being. This content may be difficult for some readers.

Mandie Aalto is the Executive Director of Advocates for Family Peace, an organization that serves victims of intimate partner violence, who often experience an ongoing pattern of coercion, intimidation, and emotional abuse. The organization serves all of Itasca County and the northern part of St. Louis County, with offices in Grand Rapids and Virginia. In this installment of our ‘Ask the Expert’ series, Mandie discusses how victims of domestic violence have been affected by the pandemic and explains what her organization has been doing to help victims through a period of increased isolation.

What impact has domestic violence had historically in our community?

Advocates for Family Peace will serve up to 650 victims of domestic violence in any given year. We cover a broad service area. There are more populated areas and many rural, isolated areas where transportation and lack of technology can be a challenge. We know that only about 20 percent of victims reach out for help, so there are significantly more people than that suffering from domestic violence. Domestic violence also usually happens in very private situations, behind closed doors, so in general it can be difficult to come forward to talk about horrific encounters with your intimate partner.

What challenges has the pandemic posed to victims of domestic violence?

Isolation has been a major challenge for victims throughout the pandemic. It’s common for abusers to intentionally isolate a victim to control them, and over the last year, people have lost places they can go to get away, whether that is the library, a store, or a friend’s house. There are fewer opportunities for victims to reach out to get help.  Right now, when people connect with us, they are coming in with significant trauma in some cases.

The beginning of the pandemic, March 2020, was alarming because, in that month, the phone barely rang. It was frightening because you know there are people that need help, but I don’t think people understood they could still reach out to us. Some people may have decided to get through issues on their own and keep themselves safe as best as they could during that time. However, it’s stressful when you’re stuck at home with a person that is obsessed with controlling you. This abuse breaks you down not only physically but also mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

What challenges does isolation pose to children in families experiencing domestic violence?

As the pandemic has gone on, we have noticed a significant increase in mandated reporting for child abuse. Mandated reporters are professionals who must make a report if they have reason to believe a child is being physically or sexually abused. When everyone is at home, it is easier for abusers to control everything that is happening and even intentionally destroy nurturing relationships between other family members. Even if children are not directly affected by violence in the home, they witness the power and control methods that abusive adults use.

Though separating from a partner is one way to escape an unsafe or unhealthy situation, if an abusive partner has parental rights, a victim will likely need to continually interact with their abuser and will be unable to cut that person off fully. For example, a victim may want to put some distance between themselves and their abuser, but relocation opportunities are limited when you need to ensure another parent gets time with the kids. In some situations, victims may have difficulties getting their children back when they’re finished spending time with the other parent – this is another way that abusers exert control. Overall, these situations are complex and each one is different. I doubt we’ll realize the full ramifications of what is happening to children until the pandemic is over.

How has your organization’s operations or service delivery model changed to adapt to these new circumstances?

Before the pandemic, we would go wherever people needed to meet us. With businesses closed, though, we can’t do that, so we have tried to set up many options to meet with us, call us, text us, etc. It is vital to have the chance to meet victims of domestic violence in person. Over the last year, much of society has shifted to doing everything virtually, but many victims do not have a phone or computer in these situations. If they do have access to technology, it can still be difficult to reach out for help if the abuser is right there in the house.

At Advocates for Family Peace, someone can show up directly at our office in Grand Rapids or Virginia. They can ring the doorbell, come in and talk to someone right away. They don’t need to have an appointment, and it’s free and confidential. We are here to support people, listen, provide resources, and trust victims to make the decisions that are best for them.

What do you foresee as the long-term effects of the current increase in domestic/intimate partner violence?

I truly believe that there is a lot of damage being done right now. The families that we serve are suffering. People are trying to just survive the pandemic, but there is also this level of violence that is happening behind closed doors. A lot of people will grow up with scars of trauma that impact not only them but can also impact the next generation and the generation after that.

This work takes a toll on our team too. It is stressful. We are all doing the best we can during the pandemic. Our staff is amazing, and they always find ways to provide the best service possible to the people we serve. We all work together to meet the needs of those that rely on us.

What can members of the community do to support victims and/or address the issue of domestic violence right now?

If you know someone personally that may be in an abusive situation, it is important to reach out and offer them kindness. Often victims of abuse are blamed for the violence they are experiencing, and the best thing you can do is not judge them. Even if you are tired of reaching out to someone or wondering why they are back in a relationship with a partner who hurt them, I ask that you please hang in there for those people. Bring over a meal and ask how they are doing and how you can help. It can make a difference, especially during this time of isolation caused by the pandemic.

The other thing community members can do is to educate themselves on domestic violence, donate, and help us with advocacy. Our organization is mainly funded on a federal level by VOCA (Victims of Crime Act), which could face drastic cuts in the future. We belong to the Violence Free Minnesota coalition, which advocates for us at a higher level. Anyone who wants to help our work to end intimate partner violence can use these resources to learn more about domestic violence or write a letter of support for our organization.


If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic or intimate partner violence, find help by calling Advocates’ crisis hotline, available 24/7 at 1-800-909-8336, or visiting their website at


Advocates for Family Peace is supported by United Way of 1000 Lakes through their Income & Basic Needs Impact Pathway, which fosters an integrated set of services to meet peoples’ food, shelter, and safety needs and help families and individuals achieve long-term financial stability. Donations to United Way support organizations like Advocates for Family Peace that work to improve the education, health, income, and basic needs of people in and around the greater Itasca area. To learn more about United Way’s impact goals, collaborations, and funded partners, visit