By Kayla Woody, House of Hope Prevention Specialist
Though the nation is currently plagued by the COVID-19 pandemic, for many citizens the virus is the least of their worries. In the United States, as many as 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men are victims of domestic violence, and since it is underreported, the statistics likely do not reflect the true scale of the problem. One tactic used by abusers is to isolate the victim from friends and family to gain full power and control. With most states and cities issuing stay-at-home requirements to reduce the spread of the virus, unfortunately, these abusers are getting the control they want.
“We are asking these people to isolate themselves with their perpetrators, which cuts them off from any support system they have,” said Rachel Natoli, founder of an Australian-based charity that provides support for domestic violence survivors.
An alarming increase in domestic violence has been reported worldwide. The National Domestic Violence Hotline, which normally receives up to 2,000 calls per day, counted only 951 callers between March 10 and 24. This does not mean that help is not needed; it simply means these victims do not have an opportunity to contact anyone for help.
“We are hearing from survivors how COVID-19 is already being used by their abusive partners to further control and abuse, how COVID-19 is already impacting their ability to access support and services like accessing shelter, counseling, different things that they would typically lean on in their communities,” said Crystal Justice, the chief marketing and development officer at NDVH.
Most victims will wait until they are alone to reach out for help. They will either wait for their abuser to leave for work, or they look for openings when they do not have childcare obligations. These opportunities are becoming obsolete since the perpetrator now has constant access to them with quarantine orders in place. Domestic violence shelters all over the nation are deemed “essential” and remain open to assist victims, but due to the virus, many are choosing to eliminate face-to-face interaction with clients.
In many countries like France, centers have been set up in grocery stores with secret passwords where victims can seek help in one of the few places they are still allowed to visit. To be able to protect American citizens from intimate partner violence, many organizations, along with the House of Hope, advise victims to have a “safety plan” or steps that can reduce the risk of harm in unsafe situations with an abuser. For the same reason schools rehearse fire drills for students, we advise our clients to plan a safe escape when violence arises in the home.
Some tips include:
- Locating the safest room in the home that has at least two exits and is free of any type of weapons.
- Plan code words and emergency numbers with children in the home.
- Prepare an emergency bag with medications, important documents and an extra pair of clothing.
- Create a buddy system with a neighbor or close friend. Provide them with a code word in case a situation arises that they can contact police for you.
- Save the National Domestic Violence Hotline number (1-800-799-SAFE) in your phone under someone’s name that is recognizable.
- Change all account information: social media, cellphone, utilities and email.
As a community, it is important to pay attention to signs of abuse. If you have a suspicion that your neighbor is in a domestic violence situation, you must reach out when problems arise. Turning the other cheek and believing that “it is none of my business” will only allow the abuse to continue. Break the silence, and change the cycle.
If you or someone you know is experiencing intimate partner violence, stalking, and/or sexual assault and would like more information, please contact House of Hope at 405-878-4673, or visit us online at facebook.com/cpnhouseofhope.