“Everyone is Living in the Same Storm, but our Boats are all Different”: Safety and Safety Planning for Survivors of Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence During the COVID-19 Pandemic


Survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV) and sexual assault (SA) faced increased violence, new safety risks, and reduced services access in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. IPV and SA service providers have a critical role in safety planning and advocacy with survivors; however their patterns of working were dramatically impacted by changes brought on by the pandemic. Little is known about safety planning strategies and service adaptations employed in this context. Through semi-structured interviews with 33 service providers from across the United States, this study explores the experiences and perspectives of victim service agency staff with IPV and SA survivor safety and safety planning from March to December 2020. Qualitative data were analyzed using conventional content analysis. Four overarching themes related to survivor safety and safety planning emerged, including (1) “The violence is more severe, it’s more escalated,” describing an increase in the severity and frequency of violence; (2) “Perpetrating the violence through [technology],” describing a specific surge in technology based abuse (TBA) as the world shifted to virtual communication to facilitate social distancing; (3) “COVID-19 is now a tool in their toolbox,” describing the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic and health guidance as a life generated risk that abusive partners used to further control and isolate their partner; and (4) “You just get real crafty,” highlighting the wide range of “work-arounds” and safety planning adaptations employed by victim service professionals trying to maintain services in a disrupted environment and in the face of evolving safety risks and increasing violence severity. These findings highlight the safety and safety planning challenges encountered as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded and the many creative strategies employed by service providers to adapt in the moment.

Publication Title

Journal of Interpersonal Violence