Pandemic: No place to hide for some domestic violence victims
'Now with complete access to you all the time, an abuser increases control over you'
Last updated 4/23/2020 at 1:37pm
During the coronavirus pandemic, Kelly Starr hears the phrase "stay at home" and can't help but cringe.
"Home is not a safe place for everyone," the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence managing director of public affairs said over the phone last week. "Domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse thrive in silence. Even hearing the phrase 'stay at home' is powerfully isolating if your home isn't safe. Imagine what it feels like to be constantly hearing that."
Starr wants domestic violence victims to know help is available.
The coalition works with over 70 local programs around the state that provide resources for survivors of abuse through training, policy work, and support to advocates doing this work, she said.
"Domestic violence is just power and control over a person," she said. "Now with complete access to you all the time, an abuser increases control over you."
As an abuser's control grows, access to support and connections shrink, Starr said. The coalition is concerned about that, and is paying close attention amid the pandemic and Gov. Jay Inslee's stay-at-home order.
"We are seeing that police departments are reporting an increase of reports of domestic violence, and we are seeing mixed things from our programs," she said. "Yet they are definitely reporting more calls and are stretched more thin, but the important thing to know is that programs are still open.
"We are definitely worried about the impact of COVID-19 and having stress, financial pressures and stay-at-home orders that don't cause someone to be abusive, but can escalate an already abusive situation. People aren't alone; programs are open, and (people) can talk to you."
In particular, domestic violence hotlines are open to help people stay safe and connect with local resources, she said.
Starr mentioned that the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Sexual Assault Hotline both have chat options when it's not a safe to talk over the phone.
"Now with everyone at home, you can chat online privately, confidentially, quietly," she said.
In addition, anyone – not just victims of abuse – can call hotlines if worried about an abuser and needs advice on how to provide support.
Engaging the public as a part of the solution is large part of the coalition's purpose. Through studies, Starr has seen that people turn to friends, family, and community in abusive situations more than turning to police and courts.
"We want everybody in the community to see their important role, and the need to connect with one another now more than ever," Starr said. "With the situation constantly changing, we want the community to know the good things that advocates do, and to share information with survivors in order to support them.
"You don't have to be an expert to reach out to people in your life, but having a constant reminder as a survivor that you do have other people, and that even a general check-in can be a lifeline to someone experiencing abuse."
Working through stressful situations and ever-changing environments, like the current pandemic, is not new to survivors of domestic violence, Starr said.
"Survivors of abuse are resilient and are used to adapting to changing tactics and different things that abusive partners do. These are skill sets that survivors have."
Resources for victims and survivors of abuse
– For immediate dangers, call 911
– Victim Support Services (serving Snohomish County) 24-hour crisis line: 888-288-9221 (call/text options available)
– Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County 24-hour support line: 425-25-ABUSE
– National Domestic Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (call/text/chat options available in more than 200 languages), or online at thehotline.org
– National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-HOPE (call/text/chat options available), or online at rainn.org.
Makenna Dreher is a former Beacon Publishing intern with degrees in journalism and political science from the University of Washington.