Supporting Victims of Domestic Violence During COVID-19
by Rebecca Mooney, M.Ed., MAAV Executive Director
In my years at MAAV, her story is one I will never forget. “Sophia” grew up with a father who verbally and physically abused his wife and children on a regular basis. It was their family secret. Even as a teenager, she arranged it so that her friends never came to her house. She excelled academically, and school was her safe haven. “Under no circumstances did I want anyone at school to know what was happening in my home. At school, I was a superstar, the teachers loved me and gave me all my self-esteem,” she said.
I’ve been thinking about Sophia and children like her as we “hunker down” in our homes. What happens when your home is not a safe haven, and when your structures and supports for coping are taken away?
Domestic violence advocates across the country are scrambling to respond to the pressures of this pandemic which we know are a breeding ground for domestic violence. Between confinement in close-quarters, isolation from friends and extended family, uncertainty, fear, loss of employment and childcare- it’s a recipe for disaster. However, calls to hotlines, domestic violence programs, the Melrose Police Department and MAAV are down. Why? Because victims are unable to call for help. Partners are now monitoring their actions 24/7. For those who do reach out, we hear stories of phone calls made in the shower, on a walk, or at the grocery store. Calls for help typically increase after, not during a disaster. In Seattle, where the outbreak first occurred, calls to domestic violence agencies are now up 21%.
It is never easy for a victim to leave an abusive relationship. Barriers include financial dependence, fear, having nowhere to go, wanting to keep the family together and hoping things will change. Now imagine on top of that being unable to obtain support, or risking exposure to the virus by leaving your home and going into a shelter.
It is an extremely difficult situation. But we want Melrose residents to know that help is still available. MAAV’s services are being offered by phone, email and teleconference, and victims can still obtain restraining orders through the Melrose Police Department. The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers an online chat function, and residents can also text, not just call 911 to reach the police.
What can others do to help? Check in with your friends. Share resources and articles about domestic violence on social media. Contact MAAV if you’d like to discuss specific situations. Donate to support domestic violence organizations. Like Sophia’s school teachers, we all have the ability to create safe havens for those who are not safe at home.
Melrose Alliance Against Violence (MAAV): 781-662-2010 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Melrose Police Department, Domestic Violence Officer: 781- 979-4432 or text 911
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-799-SAFE or www.thehotline.org to chat by text