By Shelley Flannery
The number of young adults who are moving back in with their parents has skyrocketed to a majority during the pandemic. The Pew Research Center reports that a whopping 52 percent of people ages 18 to 29 are now living with at least one parent, a number that hasn’t been seen since The Great Depression.
Unfortunately, while many young people are finding economic security with their parents during the pandemic, they’re not any safer from intimate partner violence (IPV) living at home. In fact, preliminary evidence points to the fact that domestic violence in young adults in 2020 is up around the world in all age groups. Many countries are reporting seeing sizable upticks in domestic violence incidences and others are looking to statistics such as calls to abuse hotlines.
Melissa Hoppmeyer says Prince George’s County in Maryland has experienced a clear increase in domestic violence cases since the beginning of the pandemic.
“My jurisdiction and I think most of Maryland has seen about a 10 percent increase in domestic violence,” says Hoppmeyer, who is chief of special victims and family violence for Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office. “My experience has been that even when the victim lives at home and the family knows about the violence or has inklings about it, it doesn’t stop the violence. As a matter of fact, I’ve had two domestic violence homicide cases so far this year and in both of which, the victim lived at home with their family.”
Why Living at Home Doesn’t Make a Difference
Hoppmeyer says the nature of domestic violence makes it difficult to escape, even when living with a loving family.
“A lot of times, no matter what your family does, they can’t help you break that cycle,” she says. “I speak to the families a lot of times after these homicides and they all—all of them—have countless stories of bruises that they saw or times that the victim told them about abuse and they just couldn’t get them to leave. It didn’t matter that they lived in the home.” It may be helpful to read, “When Your Teen Is Dating an Abuser,” which includes tips for helping a teen escape abuse.
And that’s if the family knows or suspects violence. Plenty of survivors hide the abuse they’re suffering out of embarrassment, shame or fear.
“People can hide things from their family,” Hoppmeyer says. “I know that teenagers can, and it’s certainly true of adults, too.”
Some young people face a different barrier—less-than-supportive families who may not believe their accounts of abuse.
Technology also plays a role since a lot of abuse happens virtually these days.
“Young people were very dependent on technology for their communication before, and now we’re in a situation where they’re even more likely to be doing all of their communication online,” says Stephanie Nilva, executive director of Day One in New York. “The abuse that happens online often falls below the radar, and young people may not even necessarily understand when they’re in abusive relationships, and so they are far less likely to come forward to ask for help.”
What Parents Can Do
All parents whose children are of dating age should familiarize themselves with the signs of abuse, regardless of where those children live. If you suspect abuse, take the following steps:
Talk to your child. “I think a lot of times, parents don’t know what to say because they think that they’ll embarrass their loved one,” Hoppmeyer says. “But saying something is the first step.” Read, “The Talk You Need to Have With Your College Kid” for tips.
Educate yourself. Learn about domestic violence and the cycle of abuse. Read Marthshouse.org articles aimed at young adults and their parents, or call Martha’s House domestic violence hotline—you can speak to an advocate anonymously about what you’re going through at home.
Trust your child. As much as you may want to forbid your child from seeing an abuser or forcing him or her to leave the relationship, that may not be the right way to go about things. First of all, the last thing anyone dealing with abuse needs is someone else trying to control their life. Second, it may not be safe.
“Keep in mind that victims themselves are the best ones to gauge when it’s safest to leave,” Hoppmeyer says.
Be there no matter what. Make sure your child knows he or she can always come to you for help. That means accepting your child with open arms even if he or she does something you said not to.
“The perfect example of this would be when young people share intimate photos,” Nilva says. An abuser may use these photos against a victim. “As a parent, you need to be able to say, ‘I’m going to help you. I’m going to support you. I’m going to be here for you without getting angry, even if you do something I told you not to do.’”
Document, document, document. While your child may not want you to call the police if his or her abuser makes threats, causes a minor injury or damages property, write down the incident as you know it, including the date, time and location.
“Make sure any incidences of either violence or destruction are being documented and kept as a journal,” Hoppmeyer says. “In one of my homicide cases, every time [the suspect] came and slashed the tires or damaged the property or tried to get in there, they would have it documented on their Ring camera, and that’s evidence that prosecutors can use down the line.”
Get help. If at any point, you believe your child is in imminent danger, call 911.
“I always think that calling 911 is the best thing. That’s what police are there for,” Hoppmeyer says. “Locking your door, having a security system is really important if you have heightened or increasing violence in the home, but calling 911 is the most important. You don’t want to engage with somebody who comes with a weapon because you don’t know how it’s going to end.”
Encourage your child to reach out to an advocate at a hotline if they ever don’t feel comfortable talking to you. At least they can talk to a trusted adult. Our HOTLINE is open 24/7. (863)763-0202.