COVID-19: Finding safety when home isn’t safe

As cities across the globe began to lock down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, reports of domestic abuse began to rise. In Seattle, one of the earliest U.S. cities to endure an outbreak, police reported a 21 percent increase in domestic violence in March.

“Many of us understand how incredibly stressful it can be to be in our home all of the time. And when you couple that with a person who’s already in an abusive relationship, whether it be emotional, physical, mental, financial, we see these increased stressors causing probably more increased abuse,”  said Amanda Kubista-Owen, a social worker in the Mayo Clinic Health System. “People that were experiencing abuse previous to COVID-19 now it seems like those situations have increased and become more dangerous. We’re seeing that not only with domestic violence, but childhood sexual assault, or human trafficking, sexual assault and intimate partner violence. There are all sorts of ways in which we see vulnerable populations are even more vulnerable at this time.”

Financial or economic abuse is another form of abuse that is especially difficult as many families are experiencing financial stress due to furloughs, layoffs and cutbacks.

“If you think about economic abuse as it is it’s a form of an abuse where one person is controlling the finances of a family,” Kubista-Owen said. “And oftentimes, the person that’s being abused, their finances are restricted. They’re not allowed to work, or if they are working, perhaps their money is taken from them right away. And now when you look at a situation where many people are unemployed, many people don’t have any kind of income coming in, you’re going to see those stressors increase. When you see stress increase, you’re going to see increased instances of abuse, whether it’s economic, whether it’s physical. It all kind of just bubbles up. And at times, you’ll see it come out in many different ways.”

Make a plan to ensure your safety and that of your children.

“There are many things you can do to protect yourself or develop a plan for safety. If possible, have cell phone or old cell phone. Those (old cell phones) will call 911 always as long as it can turn on and it has power. Try to connect, if possible, with a support person, as we’re seeing people are more isolated. Also, having a getaway bag packed or an exit strategy is something that’s really important,” Kubista-Owen said.

Creating a safety plan may include:

  • Know your local domestic violence and sexual assault resources. If there isn’t a local organization, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 (SAFE).
  • Keep a cell phone hidden for emergencies, if possible.
  • Let a trusted neighbor know your situation, share your safety plan, develop a code.
  • Get an extra set of keys for house and car.
  • Prepare an exit strategy and getaway bag with clothes, toothbrush.
  • Ensure you have your medications, identification, birth certificate.

Knowing what not to do to help a person in a difficult and abusive situation is as important as knowing what to do.

“If you know a person has a history of being in an abusive relationship, or has a current situation going on, the best thing you can do is be there to listen to them,” Kubista-Owen said. “Don’t give them an ultimatum. That’s even isolating that person further. Listen first.”

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