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SafeHouse Center SPEAKS OUT
Giving a voice to our survivors and advocates.

COVID-19: Home isn’t safe for everyone.

Tuesday, March 17th, 2020

By Barbara Niess-May, SafeHouse Center Executive Director

Barbara Niess-May

In every community, COVID-19 poses additional threats for survivors of domestic violence.  With external factors of mass closures, record numbers of people not working or working from home and the tension of the unknown, stress can build and lead to increased incidences of domestic violence.

As well, the recommendation for social distancing parlays into the often used tactic by abusers of social isolation.  In our work with survivors, it has been our experience that assailants use social isolation to gain greater control over the survivor.   It often begins in subtle ways, but grows over time which minimizes any help a survivor can access and can have significant physical and mental health impacts.  Examples of social isolation include alienation from family and friends, endanger employment, turn children against the survivor, and eliminating their role in household decision making.  

And now, it is a government sanctioned practice.  Some behaviors assailants might have during this public health crisis include:

  • Minimizing or preventing survivors efforts to secure supplies
  • Using social distance as a means to further control and disconnect completely (no social media, phone use, etc.)
  • May try to convince that they have the virus, or that someone in the household has the virus and it’s the survivor’s fault
  • Assailant stating that police won’t respond because they are too busy with the public health crisis
  • Shelters and helplines aren’t available because “everybody is closed down.”
  • Survivors may not consider shelter for fear of being exposed to COVID-19.

And the list goes on.

Our program, and many programs nationwide, are struggling to balance public health needs with survivor needs.  Community support is CRITICAL at this time. We have fundraising events planned that won’t happen, which will lead to revenue losses.  Survivors will move out of shelter at a much slower rate because of not being able to secure income. Couple that with closures and businesses ramping down, housing not being available and social programs working with skeleton staff this is a social crisis.  The impact multiplies if the survivor is experiencing poverty, is an immigrant, or has multiple children.

We are hearing from survivors.  For example, a helpline call from a survivor whose husband is returning from overseas early and she doesn’t have time to implement her safety plan.  Another survivor who is wondering how long it will take to get a Personal Protection Order (PPO) because county and state offices are shutting down. The requests for help are complicated and don’t have easy answers.

We are learning from Italy and China that there could be a significant spike in requests for help and support from survivors of domestic violence because of the factors listed above.  Programs throughout the country are making difficult decisions to help and support survivors.  

Community support, financial and otherwise, will make an enormous difference in local program’s ability to support survivors through this public health crisis.   Making financial donations to programs will help fill gaps in planned fundraising revenue and assist with unexpected costs of addressing the unique needs of survivors.  Sharing with your networks that programs are available and open, and that you are someone that can be trusted to listen can be the needed support to someone in your circle experiencing domestic violence.  

Being educated about the impact of domestic violence and helping local programs help survivors will make a difference during this public health crisis.


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