Here is how communities can help women stay safe
As we continue to confront the global crisis of COVID-19, experts warn that we need to remember those who are most vulnerable as a result of social isolation: Women trapped at home with abusive partners.
As a result of the quarantine, cities across America have reported a surge in domestic violence calls to police stations and help hotlines, and the United Kingdom reports a similar increase in violence against women and children.
Quarantine is a terrifying predicament for women who are living with abusive partners. One key tactic that abusers use to keep their victims silent and helpless is to isolate them. And, now, this isolation has been served up on a silver platter. These women are completely shut off from the outside world, with no one to see the bruises or to offer assistance.
I am greatly troubled and concerned for the welfare of these women, because the usual safety nets are no longer in place. Their children aren’t in school, so you don’t have mandated reporters like counselors and teachers seeing the red flags. Pediatrician’s offices are being shut down, so again, there goes another safety net. Women’s shelters have closed as a result of the virus, or are simply unable to take incoming women and children who are in danger.
Social distancing also means that communities are turning a blind eye to potential signs of abuse.
Even on a simple, day-to-day level, all of our usual safeguards are gone: We aren’t lingering in the driveway talking to our neighbors, we aren’t making chit-chat at the grocery store or attending work or church or family get-togethers.
People are worried about missing Easter services or canceling family barbeques, but the real tragedy of quarantine is so much more serious than kids being bored at home. It’s created a situation in which abusers have complete carte blanche to assault their partners without fear or restraint.
We have to be much more proactive as a community in order to protect victims of violence, such as by creating virtual therapy programs, increasing domestic violence awareness, and giving women safe ways to exit dangerous homes.
In France, they have created a program where women can say a code word to pharmacists to signal that they need to be rescued from a violent situation at home. Since pharmacies are one of the few places left open during quarantine, this can offer a viable solution for women who may be in grave danger, but we don’t have a nationwide program like that in America yet.
However, domestic violence hotlines are still operable, with some even offering text-based assistance. If you’re afraid your partner might overhear you calling for help, but you can still text privately, this is a possibility.
Concerned citizens should consider offering their time and energy to these programs, as they are greatly overwhelmed right now.
Consider donating to domestic violence charities and hotlines right now. You can’t go to your favorite coffee shop or bar right now, so why not spend that money on helping people in need in your community, or use all of your new free time to volunteer to help these organizations remotely.
Neighbors should check up on each other via NextDoor or Facebook.
Yes, you can’t see your neighbors every day, but you can reach out and let your neighbors you are there to assist in any way you can. Offer to drop off groceries, share supplies, walk dogs, cut the grass, or start a virtual book club. Look for little ways to create connection in your neighborhood. Doing so will spread positivity throughout your community, and it will also help vulnerable people feel supported and offer them opportunities for assistance.
Hang a sign in your window to attract your neighbors’ eyes.
Many neighborhoods are encouraging people to put up rainbows or hearts or other signs in their window to boost community spirit and make people smile. But you can make a sign with numbers for domestic abuse hotlines or with a sign that says you are able to offer assistance in emergencies. You may not be able to take in strangers right now, but you can call the police if you suspect abuse or create a neighborhood watch program where you keep on eye on families that could be in trouble during this time. Just putting up a sign will let women know that they are not alone.
And, if you or someone you know needs support, reach out to these organizations:
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network: 1-800-656-HOPE
Safe Horizon: 1-800-621-HOPE (4673)