By Veronika Lynch, Outreach Awareness Specialist
COVID-19 has challenged everyone to adapt and survive during these uncertain times. This new experience has created an increase in anxiety and discomfort around the loss of our “old” lives. Those living in abusive and dangerous homes have been forced to perfect their survival skills and question if they will survive quarantine.
Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior from one individual towards the other in order to gain, and maintain, power and control. Tactics include physical, emotional, verbal, sexual and financial abuse. These behaviors often take place in a cycle. Times of tension build where stressors may occur, this leads to more fighting, which is followed by the explosive phase when the height of abuse takes place. Lastly there is the honeymoon phase, full of empty apologies and promises to change. But now that we are living during a time of constant stressors- unemployment, virtual learning, and a pandemic- we must ask ourselves, what is happening to victims?
“One caller had tested positive for COVID-19, and the abuser was keeping them from contacting family and threatening them with deportation. To see someone’s health and immigration status weaponized shows that an abusive partner will use anything they can to isolate and control. We know that isolation is one of the strongest tactics an abuser can use” (thehotline.org). Isolation, health, and fear are all being weaponized by abusers to ensure that their power and control remains steady during this time of unrest and worry. Recognizing the danger that victims are facing, domestic violence agencies have doubled down on their efforts to provide crucial services to victims, such as the 24/7 crisis hotline and virtual counseling.
Many rely on agencies such as the Domestic Abuse Project of Delaware County (DAP) to provide support and safety planning while navigating their controlling relationships. Calls to DAP’s 24/7 crisis hotline are carefully planned to happen while the abuser is at work or gone for the night. COVID-19 has taken away the slight reprieve from the abuser and replaced it with constant contact.. When lockdown began in March, DAP noted a drop of 110 hotline callers for the month. DAP’s interim counseling and advocacy manager, Nicole Ramspacher, shared her thoughts on how the hotline has been affected, “Hotline calls often fluctuate throughout the year, while it is hard to say for certain what is leading to the decrease in hotline calls, it is highly possible that due to isolation and control tactics by abusers’ victims needing help may have less access to reaching out for support. They may not have access to a phone or a safe place to talk about their concerns with a hotline advocate. Reaching out for help and being discovered by the abusive person may put a victim at a higher risk of violence which may lead people to not reach out while quarantined with the abuser.”
DAP was not the only agency taking note of a change in hotline calls. The Domestic Violence Center of Chester County was surprised to see a 15 percent increase in hotline calls, but a steep decrease in follow through with obtaining services. While victims stole quick moments to call and speak with an advocate, they were unable to receive long-term help.
Not only were services such as the hotline impacted, but outside agencies victims depend on to leave their relationships, were no longer available. “The main thing I have noticed especially during the height of the pandemic is that leaving was much harder than usual. Leaving is an extremely difficult thing to do in normal times, but during the pandemic, resources like moving companies and even friends and family were not able to support like they could in the past,” said Jen K., DAP’s children’s counselor.
Quarantine and mandatory stay-at-home orders put stress on victims, but without resources to aide them as they leave violent relationships, it is easy for victims to feel hopeless and even more isolated. DAP wants to make sure victims know they are committed to providing the best quality of care possible, even during a pandemic. DAP and others in PA, have partnered with hotels to shelter individuals at-risk of physical harm to prioritize the health and safety of staff and clients. DAP is available 24/7 to discuss personalized safety planning and listen to victims’ concerns. Our counseling staff have transitioned to an online model to accommodate their clients’ needs. DAP offers one-on-one counseling and a virtual support group.
If you are interested in learning more about DV, visit DAP’s Facebook page @DAPdelco to find videos on various topics regarding domestic violence. There are self-care tips and ideas for those struggling during the pandemic. Please reach out for help, DAP is always here for you.
If you or someone in your community is in an unhealthy relationship and needs support or resources, please contact DAP’s 24/7 crisis hotline at 610-565-4590.