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COVID-19 fears and “Social Distancing” add more tools to the abuser’s toolbox

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Domestic and family violence is a crime of isolation. Even under normal circumstances, abusers use isolation as a tactic to control their victims—either physically or emotionally—by cutting them off from friends and family through distance, busyness, or outright forbidding contact with others. What we’re seeing is that the COVID-19 pandemic is making that tactic easier and more “reasonable” to implement, along with a host of other restrictive behaviors.

An abuser might use COVID-19 to exert power and control by withholding supplies, such as hand sanitizer or disinfectants, sharing misinformation about the pandemic, and/or preventing their victim from seeking medical attention. Even worse, travel restrictions and full shelters might impact a victim’s escape or safety plan. Fear of catching the virus in a shelter or facility might prevent a victim from even reaching out to providers at all.

Abusers might also use the pandemic to their advantage when it comes to the court system. They are already known to misuse the courts to maintain power and control over their victims in other ways, including filing frivolous lawsuits and VPOs against them.

This is what a woman in Stroud, Oklahoma apparently experienced when her children were taken from her care and placed in the custody of their father due to her alleged proximity to COVID-19. Per a photo she posted to Facebook, the Emergency Order, granted by a Sac and Fox Nation District Court Judge, states that it was granted “due to the respondent’s exposure to the Coronavirus.” While the Order doesn’t state the mother’s occupation, her Facebook post indicates that she works in the medical field.

The Order from the Court also states that the decision was made, in part, due to “a proffered history of alleged neglect” by the mother. In the post, however, she denies these allegations and reveals that the children’s father has been charged with domestic violence and has had VPOs filed against him by multiple victims.

KFOR spoke to the judge assigned to the case, but he declined to be interviewed on camera, stating that discussing the facts of the case would be “improper.” While the mother appears to have been contacted by many media outlets for interviews, the judge has issued a Gag Order for both parties, restricting their ability to discuss the case with the public.

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