While self isolation during the coronavirus epidemic (COVID-19) can be stressful for most people, there are those who are stuck in a home with their abusers as a result.
“You’re just in a box with no escape,” said Anika Virgin, director of York County’s Victim-Witness Assistance program. “It makes things feel even more hopeless, I’m sure.”
Even before people were trapped in their homes amid the coronavirus outbreak, an act of domestic violence occurred in the U.S. every 15 seconds, according to data from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
But now, many victims don’t have any escape from their abusers.
Juanita Graham, director of the Avalon Center, said a time of crisis such as this pandemic can create a hotbed for the emotions and actions involved in abuse. Domestic abuse usually involves some sort of power control, which can be manipulated even more so when there are greater stressors and anxieties in the household.
“It gives them the opportunity for more abusive actions to take place because now you’re in closer proximity for longer periods of time,” Graham said.
During this time an abuser can hoard necessary items, such as food or medications, that are no longer easily accessible in the outside world. In addition, the person being abused is even further isolated from friends and family which increases their feelings of loneliness and hopelessness.
This time can also be especially difficult for children, said Robin Gauthier, director of the Samaritan House in Virginia Beach. With schools closed for the rest of the year, children are being exposed to acts of domestic abuse that might’ve occurred while they were away. They might also become the focus of the abuse and without having teachers and friends who might recognize the warning signs, they might not have anyone to help them.
Neither Avalon nor the Victim Witness program have seen an increase of cases yet, but the directors said they expect those numbers to change in the coming weeks as people are stuck inside for longer.
At the Samaritan House, advocates have already started to see an increased need for services, Gauthier said. Currently there are 86 people in the organization’s shelter, 42 of whom are children, and have had 10 new families come in for services in the past two weeks.
“That’s definitely an uptick,” Gauthier said. “It’s very difficult because our revenues are decreasing and demand is going up.”
Avalon’s shelter is also still operating but it’s trying to keep residents as separate as possible, Graham said.
But the Victim Witness Protection Program in York County isn’t currently open to the public and the other domestic violence prevention organizations have also had to limit their services.
And during a time of isolation, that can be a problem.
“It can be dangerous to find ways to reach out through FaceTime or messaging,” Virgin said. “But each individual victim of domestic violence knows their situation the best and how to survive their abuser.”
Virgin said the program is still working to figure out how to reach those in need and in the meantime, workers have been trying to reach out to individuals through the phone and some online resources.
The Avalon Center is continuing to operate its 24-hour hotline and increasing its social media presence in an effort to reach victims who are now trapped in their home.
At the Samaritan House, staff have had to limit face-to-face interaction by doing case management with clients over the phone and postponing its community support group.
But for the most part, these organizations are doing as much as they can to reach out to victims who are in a more dangerous situation than ever during this pandemic.
“It’s just important to let them know there is help out there and they can be safe,” Virgin said. “There’s someone who cares and will work with them to make sure they and their families are safe.”
If you or a loved one is a victim of domestic abuse, call:
- Avalon’s 24-hour helpline at 757-258-5051
- The Samaritan House 24-hour crisis hotline at 757-430-2120
- York County’s Victim-Witness Assistance Program at 757-890-3402
- The National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-787-3224
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