Since Covid-19 became a serious concern, we have learned a lot about our responsibility to physically distance ourselves, and to self-isolate in order to limit the spread. While it is an act of community care to encourage others to stay home, we also know that home is not always comfortable or safe.
For people who live with perpetrators of abuse, staying home can be incredibly dangerous. Spending more time around your abuser often means experiencing more abuse. Covid-19 has dramatically increased the difficulties that survivors face and offers abusers a whole new avenue of tactics to use. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this happen. In fact, instances of abuse are known to increase during times like these.
The call for physical distancing compounds the isolation that survivors already face. This graph helps illustrate the experience of isolation and abuse:
As an abusive relationship progresses, two things happen simultaneously: they become more isolated from friends and family, and the abuse becomes more dangerous.
Limiting the spread of Covid-19 also limits access to the social supports that survivors may turn to for safety, such as faith communities, schools, and mental health systems. It may no longer be safe for a survivor to reach out to organizations like Safe Passage, because calls to our hotline and conversations with an advocate may be overheard by others in the home. And people who face marginalizing factors like language barriers, bias and discrimination, or the lack of access to health insurance will find it even more difficult to access life-saving services.
This is where you can make a difference.
Stay Connected: Maintaining or re-establishing contact with people in our lives who might be experiencing domestic abuse can drastically decrease isolation. It may even increase the likelihood that they will reach out for help earlier. Remember, we don’t always know what someone is experiencing at home!
This may seem simple, but continuing to check in with the people we already communicate with can make a huge difference.
Conversations do not need to be directly oriented towards talking about domestic violence. In fact, those kinds of conversations can be dangerous if the abuser can overhear you. What’s more important is simply staying connected and supportive, and showing the survivor that you’re available should they need you. Be ready to listen. Believe them. And help them get the help they think is best.
Disclosing abuse is a very brave and very personal decision. It is important that we recognize that survivors know what is safest for them and their families, and honor their agency in deciding what they need next. Simply being there for someone who is experiencing violence is a powerful act.
Know your resources: During heightened isolation, survivors may not be able to make a phone call and share details of the abuse. We encourage friends, family, neighbors to contact our hotline and get information about the resources and safety planning strategies that are available for survivors. After all, in addition to the emotional support you can offer a friend right now, you may be their only lifeline to the information and help they need.
- The Safe Passage hotline is available Monday through Friday 11am-7pm. Call (413) 586-5066 or toll free at (888) 345-5282.
- SafeLink (the MA statewide hotline) operates 24/7 at (877) 785-2020 and has bilingual advocates.
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 at (800) 799-7233 and also offers a webchat option at thehotline.org.
When sharing resources with someone, it’s important to practice tech safety if there is a possibility that their phone or computer is being monitored. Ask them how they would prefer to connect and if there is a better way to send them information. Learn more about strategies to prevent tech misuse at techsafety.org.
Take care of yourself: Knowing that someone we care about is being hurt can be really difficult. Take care of yourself so you can continue to help (here are some great self-care ideas from our friends at Move to End Violence). And remember, our advocates are here for you too.
We know we have no other choice right now – that physical distancing is incredibly important for the health and safety of our communities. But it doesn’t mean we have to be socially distant. In difficult times like these, communities come together over shared struggles and find new ways to support each other. The simple act of staying in touch and staying informed is one of the best ways that we can all continue to support survivors in our lives. After all, it takes a community to end domestic violence. And we are grateful to have a community who cares.