A New Type of Violence

August 20, 2020

As we commemorate World Humanitarian Day this week amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we consider what humanitarianism looks like in this climate. This year, the United Nations’ global campaign, #RealLifeHeroes, honors aid workers in the fight against the pandemic by highlighting the personal stories of real-life heroes such as healthcare workers, food industry workers, and all those putting their lives at risk. While honoring aid workers for their heroic efforts, it is important to acknowledge the role women play in this fight and all types of risk our aid workers face—including violence.

Alexa Ortiz, a Health IT Scientist at RTI International, highlights the increased violence healthcare workers are experiencing during the pandemic, types of violence, and how to address this violence in a recent “The Medical Care Blog” post.  As noted in the blog, the types of violence most commonly experienced by healthcare workers can be categorized into 3 groups:

  1. Violence from patients or their families for enforcing COVID-19 prevention and control measures.
  2. Aggression from the general public (verbal threats and physical aggression).
  3. Clashes with law enforcement when demanding improved working conditions and PPE.

These 3 types of violence generally center around healthcare workers enforcing public health regulations and the reactive aggression from the public.  While the above forms of violence are tailored specifically to healthcare workers, violence against other essential workers (e.g. workers in the food industry, public transportation, delivery services, cleaning services, social services, etc.) can fit under these conditions.

With new mask requirements being implemented in establishments across the nation under the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), enforcing this regulation is often left to frontline workers.  This New York Times article features the violent reactions retail workers can face from those who don’t comply when trying to enforce these public health guidelines, including personal experiences of verbal and physical attacks.

This new type of violence becomes a greater issue for women who fill many of the positions in these frontline jobs. The Center for Economic and Policy Research breaks down the characteristics of workers on the frontline in a demographic profile.  Women make up 64.4% of all frontline industry workers, 76.8% of healthcare workers, 50.5% of grocery, convenience, and drug store workers, 53.2% of building and cleaning service workers, and 85.2% of childcare and social services workers. This new avenue for experiencing violence can be an added stressor for women who are already experiencing other forms of violence during this pandemic.

Despite the risk of transmission and this new risk of public aggression, essential workers continue to provide the services needed to survive.  While they risk their lives taking care of us, we must make sure to do our best to take care of them in return.  This means abiding by public health guidelines and recommendations to ensure the safety of all is essential to minimize any new risks for our aid workers who are the most exposed.