Pandemic adversely affecting domestic violence survivors

There are several Super Bowl ads that I can remember from over the years. None more vividly, though, than one about domestic violence that aired in 2015.

In it, you hear a survivor of domestic violence calling local authorities while the camera pans around a house showing nearly everything is knocked over and strewn about. But because the survivor isn’t safe, she tells the 911 operator that she’s ordering a pizza and he eventually catches on, understanding that the perpetrator is in the room.

The ad was also timely, as there is often believed to be a spike in reports of domestic violence on Super Bowl Sunday.

But one advocate said it best in an interview with the Miami Herald last year: “There are spikes, but the fact is that [domestic violence] is pervasive and growing at all times, so it is not limited to one segment of our society, it is not limited to one time of year,” said Mary Riedel, president and CEO of Women in Distress of Broward County. “It is pervasive. It happens every seven seconds.”

The statistics about domestic violence were staggering before the coronavirus pandemic — 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience severe intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner contact sexual violence, and/or intimate partner stalking with impacts such as injury, fearfulness, post-traumatic stress disorder, use of victim services, contraction of sexually transmitted diseases, etc., according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Statistics about domestic violence solely based on related police reports filed each year would not show you this level of prevalence. Many survivors cannot seek help because doing so would be unsafe or would limit their access to resources needed to survive. Survivors often deal with mixed feelings on how to react to violent outbreaks and abuse because the perpetrator is someone they love.

The pandemic has made the issue even more detrimental on several fronts. Because of health restrictions and remote working, people are spending more time at home than ever before, which can mean especially grave circumstances for those facing abuse. Among those circumstances: Perpetrators are using the close proximity to control a survivor’s technology so they can track them or limit their access to resources.

Fear of coronavirus infections has also kept some survivors from seeking help from victims services agencies or staying with loved ones. And even when they are able to flee the abuse, the economic downturn often means longer stays in shelters or a heightened need for financial assistance as it’s become harder to find a job.

The staff at ACCESS (Assault Care Center Extending Shelter and Support) know this all too well. The organization – which provides services in Marshall, Tama, Greene, Story and Boone counties – focuses on combating sexual and domestic violence. In Marshall County, ACCESS provided 2,559.25 hours of service to 392 clients in the last year. As a board member for the organization, I am proud of the staff’s commitment to supporting survivors through some of the most difficult challenges they’ll face in their lives, even during a pandemic.

No one should have to face these circumstances – period. But when they do, they ought to have help available. If you have the means, that help can involve donating to organizations like ACCESS. That help can also come in the form of promoting relationships based on love, not control or power. Help can also mean putting an end to victim blaming because the only person at fault for abuse is the perpetrator.

A community can only truly thrive when its members are free from violence. If you’d like to learn more about ACCESS, visit www.assaultcarecenter.org.

If you are in need of help, you can use the following resources:

Sexual Assault Crisis Line: 515-292-5378 or Toll Free 800-203-3488

Domestic Abuse & Violent Crimes Crisis Line: 515-292-0519 or Toll Free 855-983-4641

Housing/Sheltering Crisis Line: 515-292-0543 or Toll Free 855-696-2980

Online chat operated 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday-Friday: https://www.assaultcarecenter.org/en/live_chat/


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