Almost everyone in America has been told that home is the safest place to be right now. Sheltering in place is recommended to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
But what if the biggest danger you face lives at home with you? More than 10 million Americans are victims of “intimate partner physical violence” every year, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV).
While staying home is an important and potentially life-saving method to stop the transmission of the disease, being stuck at home can be mentally and physically devastating for victims of domestic abuse. For too many people home is not a safe place to be and forced isolation in the same residence can be dangerous.
Carol Gall, executive director of Sarah’s Inn in Forest Park, said that sheltering in place has created additional safety concerns for those living in abusive situations.
“It can become a huge safety issue, especially if someone is living in the same household as the perpetrator,” said Gall. “The COVID-19 situation is stressful for everyone, but once you add in the additional layer of an unsafe home, it escalates the danger. The level of violence can increase.”
Gall said even people living in safe houses where there is no abuse feel stressed.
“There’s a feeling of a loss of control,” said Gall, who added that perpetrators of abuse often have power and control issues. A situation like the COVID-19 pandemic can escalate their need to try to control things – and people – around them.
Even under normal conditions, leaving an abusive situation can be difficult. But the options were simpler when victims could get out of the house more easily than they can now. When they could take their kids somewhere. When they could go to work to get away. With all non-essential businesses closed, many people don’t have safe places to go.
Additionally, said Gall, abusers use threats or scare tactics to further manipulate and control their victims. Victims might be told they won’t be allowed back in the house if they leave. Or if they go out and get sick, abusers might threaten not to get them medical care.
Domestic abuse shelters in general, many of which are group homes, need to be mindful of social distancing to prevent transmission of coronavirus while providing safe havens for domestic violence victims who need help. Gall said Sarah’s Inn and other shelters have been working with hotels to provide partnerships for extended stays.
Individual counseling is available by phone, said Gall, but for some people it doesn’t feel as safe as meeting in person.
“Talking on the phone can come with confidentiality issues,” said Gall, who went on to say that the meeting space at Sarah’s Inn facility has become a “safe space” for a lot of people. Talking on the phone isn’t the same as having a safe sanctuary.
Group meetings, an important outlet and educational service for many clients, have been suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, although Gall said Sarah’s Inn has been working on setting up virtual groups, which hopefully will be available next week. Maintaining confidentiality was an important part of setting up the platform, so it took a few weeks to get it up and running.
Gall said she’s noticed an uptick in calls from victims in need of other types of emergency assistance, including housing support for rent or mortgage payments, food, and household supplies like toilet paper. The best way to help, said Gall, is to donate online through the website at sarahsinn.org.
But all domestic violence agencies including Sarah’s Inn, said Gall, are still providing critical services for people in abusive situations.
Sarah’s Inn’s 24-hour crisis line is available at 708-386-4225. The text hotline is 708-792-3120.