When staying home is not safe
By MARIANNE WINTERS
Social isolation is not new for survivors living with abuse. As a tactic frequently used by people who abuse others, isolation is integral to almost every experience of domestic violence.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we must physically distance ourselves — from faith communities, schools, friends, family and service organizations. But when these critical people and resources are no longer available, domestic violence survivors are faced with new challenges to creating plans for their safety.
For survivors who are now in close contact with their abusers due to social distancing, the additional stressors in all our lives — children home from school, financial pressures, uncertainty and fear about the future — are dangerous. It’s a perfect storm of factors that can lead to the escalation of violence and reduction of safe options.
And the usual supports that survivors rely on are less available.
Shelters might be full, or even closed due to illness. Friends and relatives may be sick themselves, or unwilling to take someone in, fearing contagion or a drain on their own limited resources. Public places that can normally be a safe place to go — such as the malls or libraries — are closed. And emergency rooms could be dangerous for healthy individuals and those with underlying health issues.
Our goal at Safe Passage is to help shed light on the hard realities of this situation, and help survivors increase their safety.
Safety planning is never a onesize- fits-all strategy. At Safe Passage, we know that survivors are the experts of their own experience.
They know best how to keep themselves and their children safe. As survivors navigate increased challenges of building safety during a pandemic, organizations like Safe Passage are ready to help and to listen more closely to the ideas and solutions that survivors are sharing with us. To help survivors access their own power and resourcefulness as they think through what options are still available to them, and what additional strategies this new reality demands.
With even more barriers to leaving home, planning for safety as a survivor during COVID-19 might look different than it did before. As dependence on technology increases, survivors might need to think differently about safe use of technology. Survivors may need their family, faith community members, friends, and neighbors to maintain contact and lessen the isolation. Before COVID-19, many survivors were in the practice of identifying the safest location inside their homes if violence began to escalate; many had developed plans to leave their homes and go to a safer location if the violence became particularly dangerous. At this time, these plans may look very different.
At Safe Passage, we hear it all the time: “Why doesn’t the survivor just leave?” The reality, of course, is that leaving has never been a guarantee of safety. In fact, we know that leaving can increase threats and likelihood of violence. And during this current pandemic where communities are sheltering in place and families are self-quarantining, leaving may not be an option at all.
So, how can we help? If you need support creating a safety plan:
■ Call our hotline to speak with a Safe Passage advocate. Our staff are trained to help survivors of domestic violence and relationship abuse develop individual plans for safety.
■ We can help you gather information about community resources — along with changes in hours and availability — as you identify potential supports and helpers.
■ We can listen, provide emotional support, and assist you in putting concrete plans in place to increase safety while maintaining contact with an abusive person.
If you know someone who is experiencing domestic violence:
■ Safe Passage advocates are here for you too. You may be a lifeline to supporting someone in this pandemic. You can call our hotline and talk to someone about how you can help survivors in your life.
■ Stay connected. Check-in. Call.
Text. Be there in case they need you.
■ Know who can help. Be ready to share phone numbers and websites to get someone to the help they need.
Know these resources:
■ The Safe Passage hotline is available Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Call 413-586-5066 or toll free at 888-345-5282 to talk to a trained advocate.
■ In Massachusetts, SAFELINK’s bilingual advocates are available 24/ 7 at 877-785-2020 to provide information about shelter availability and referrals to local programs.
■ The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24 hours a day at 800-799-7233. And because it may not be safe to make a voice call, you can also find their web chat option at www.thehotline.org.
As we all focus on ways to keep our communities safer, let’s not overlook those for whom more time at home is dangerous — not just frustrating. We must be aware of, and ready to support the survivors in our midst.
Marianne Winters is the executive director of Safe Passage.