“Even in the best of times, the most dangerous place for victims is in their own homes.”
This is how Erica Munoz, part of the team at Live Violence Free in rural Alpine County, California, makes it clear that—despite current measures meant to protect us—not all of us are safer at home.
Shelter-in-place ordinances play a vital role in curbing the spread of the coronavirus, but they also push people and families into a pressurized state of stress that fuels family violence. This pandemic has created the conditions that result in surges in domestic violence cases, even as so many incidents go unreported. Some cities and counties across the country are reporting as much as a 25 percent increase in domestic violence, and we are losing lives.
Too often relegated to the shadows, domestic violence is now an issue that we cannot ignore. It is being brought to light in a way that necessitates public conversation and attention, and we must not look away.
Survivors of Domestic Violence Need Help Now
Current coverage on domestic violence reinforces a simple and urgent truth: “This is a growing problem.”
There is little mention of the myriad programs and resources still available to people experiencing domestic violence, or the dynamic organizations and resilient individuals who are meeting this moment with creativity and care—providing real solutions for survivors who need help now.
In California alone, there are over 130 organizations ready to support survivors and their families.
As our partners at Women’s Shelter Long Beach know:
“We still have a lot to accomplish, but … by working together with our community we can break the cycle of violence by continuing to provide support to those who need it most.”
We are quickly moving resources to vital front-line organizations that are rising to meet this historic challenge. In mid-April, Women’s Foundation California and Blue Shield of California Foundation partnered to distribute $1.4 million dollars to domestic violence agencies across the state to provide immediate funds and the financial nimbleness required to support the growing and complex needs of survivors and families.
“Due to the quarantine, we have incurred a range of additional expenses,” explains Darryl Evey, CEO of Family Assistance Program, “the children in the shelter need computers to complete their homework so we purchased new computers for them. We are also unable to utilize volunteers so our staff are working additional hours.”
Leading with Creativity and Care
During this time, the resourceful adaptation and creativity of the leaders within domestic violence organizations has been remarkable. Our partners at Rainbow Services told us that, “to create responsive, survivor-centered programs … we are now able to provide shelter to survivors in need of safe housing at local partnering hotels. To meet the increased needs of our agency and survivors, we have extended residential advocate, children’s program aide, and maintenance staff hours.”
All of this—in addition to figuring out ways to provide personal protective equipment, comply with distancing requirements in communal living arrangements, secure additional cleaning supplies, and maintain basic day-to-day operations of direct services—is the everyday work of small staff who do very big things.
What we strive to add to the conversation—and hope anyone who is experiencing relationship violence has the chance to read—is that help is out there. Shelters, hotlines, agencies, crisis centers and advocates are working around the clock to stay open and ready for survivors during this crisis. This work is essential, and we need to continue to provide and expand the financial resources to make sure the help is always there.
COVID-19 didn’t create a domestic violence crisis; it exacerbated it—and it forces us to focus our attention. Survivors and their children are living this reality all of the time, and its consequences are far-reaching.
Children within violent homes are experiencing trauma in place—and that trauma is something they will carry with them into their future, their own relationships and into our communities.
Empowerment Starts by Reaching Out
While many of us are waiting for our lives to return to normal, survivors of domestic violence cannot wait. For them, there is no time to waste. Despite a world in chaos—behind and beyond their front door—empowerment starts by reaching out instead of staying in place.
Domestic violence service organizations remain bastions of hope and possibility for survivors. The field was built to be strong on behalf of those who’ve had to be strong on their own for too long. Advocates remain ready. Hope is still possible.
Let COVID-19 be a lesson that we will no longer let domestic violence thrive at the quiet edges of society. This pandemic sheds light on an old problem in a new way. It has raised our awareness of the need and elevated an opportunity to do more for others; to support those around us.
We urge communities to check in on each other, stand up for each other, and be advocates for survivors. By speaking up and refusing to accept domestic violence as just another consequence of today’s crisis, you are giving a voice to other women living in silence.
And for those who are experiencing abuse in this difficult moment, know that we stand with you and for you. You are not alone.
If you are feeling unsafe during this time, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224, or visit their website to live chat with a support person at www.thehotline.org.