April 3, 2020

Are you sick of hearing about the Coronavirus and all the ways we have to adjust?  Yeah…me too. But the reality is this is a really stressful time and no one knows when it will end. The period of “not knowing” is often the hardest part. Prolonged stress can bring out the worst in all of us. I’m seeing families that can function well in normal situations crumbling under the weight of this. Words are being shouted that should never have been said. Fights are escalating to pushing and shoving. Kids are hearing and seeing things they will remember long after the virus is gone. If this is going on in your home, be proactive to prevent any more damage. 

We all have to learn new coping skills and I want to help you with this. I’m rising to the challenge with online interviews with experts and I’m also offering online groups so we can lean on each other and draw support. Don’t be embarrassed if your family is losing it at times. This isn’t the time to hide. You (or you and your spouse) can start online counseling with us as soon as this week. Reach out and get the support you need.

Domestic abuse in times of crisis

Now for some of you, the impact of the Coronavirus only complicates an already complicated situation. You have been living in an unsafe environment and it has nothing to do with the pandemic. My heart really goes out to you. Your difficult situation has become even more frightening because there is little escape from an abusive spouse who is quarantined at home.  Self-isolation forces victims of domestic violence and their kids into potentially dangerous situations – ‘sheltering in place’ with their abusers. Combined with the added fear of unemployment, sickness and death, the abuser may take advantage of this already stressful situation to gain even more control.

During a time of crisis like this, the risk of domestic violence escalates. “We know domestic violence is rooted in power and control,” says Katie Ray-Jones, CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. “Right now, we are all feeling a lack of control over our lives and an individual who cannot manage that will take it out on their victim.”

The Impact on Survivors

Here are some of the specific ways the COVID-19 epidemic could impact domestic violence victims:

  • Fear of exposure to the virus may impact the survivor’s willingness to seek help or treatment.
  • The abuser may use the virus as a scare tactic to keep the survivor away from the kids or from visiting supportive family members.
  • Social ties are temporarily severed. Allies outside the home that may have noticed or reported the abuse are no longer seeing them every day.
  • The abusive partner may withhold access to household disinfectants and soaps to create fear; or withhold insurance information to prevent the survivor from seeking medical treatment.
  • Travel restrictions may impact their ability to execute their safety plan.
  • Shelters, counseling centers, and other support organizations may have reduced services; or going to such places would put the survivor at increased risk for exposure to the virus.
  • Loss of income or recent unemployment can make the victim more financially dependent on the abuser, and therefore more difficult to leave the abusive situation.

If you or someone you know is living with an abuser, here are a few suggestions on what the survivor can do during this time.

Create a Safety Plan

A safety plan is your personal plan that includes ways for you to protect yourself while you are in an abusive relationship, planning to leave an abusive relationship, or after you’ve left one.  A good safety plan covers not only your physical safety but also includes ways to manage your emotions, maintain communication with friends and family, and legally protect yourself.

It’s important to remember that when you are under extreme stress, your brain may not function as logically as it would under more calm times, so having a plan in place in advance and soliciting help from supportive friends, family and domestic violence resources is crucial.

Practice Self-Care

While it’s important for us to stay at home, feelings of isolation from friends and family are also a real concern and can impact our mental health. Taking time for your own health and wellness can make a big difference in how you feel.

Where you can do so safely, try to stick to your daily routines as much as possible. Maintain (or increase) your physical activity by taking frequent walks or bike rides and maintain social connections to friends and family online or over the phone.  If you have children, these same recommendations apply for them as well. Encourage them be active outdoors while still practicing social-distancing and help them stay connected to their friends through online methods.

If you are a friend or family member of someone in an abusive relationship, you may not be able to physically check on them during this time, but you can still encourage them through a phone call or text and remind them to practice self-care while they are stuck at home.

Reach Out for Help

If you are reading this and are living in an abusive situation, I want you to know you are not alone.  Your abuser wants you to believe you are, but that is a lie to control you. If you are in an unsafe living situation, don’t let the lies leave you trapped. You can reach out to The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 (SAFE) or TTY 1−800−787−3224. If you cannot speak safely, you can also text LOVEIS to 22522 or log onto thehotline.org

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