April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, part of an annual campaign to raise public awareness about sexual assault and sexual violence. It’s not a month of celebration, but one of education about both the prevalence of sexual violence and about ways to prevent it.
Our plans to host a writing workshop for survivors of sexual violence to tell their stories has been postponed, as has the public reading we were to hold next week. This column was to be about how to receive a story of abuse.
Instead, I want to raise your awareness about how Stay-at-Home and Shelter-in-Place measures to protect all of us from the coronavirus pandemic put victims of domestic and sexual violence at increased risk.
Stay-at-Home Order Raises Risk
If it’s hard for happy families to adjust to working, schooling and playing at home 24/7 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, try to imagine what happens when there’s an abusive person in the household, cooped up, frightened about the virus, and out of control.
This is not a fabricated scenario.
Even without a Stay-at-Home order, more than 1 in 3 women in the U.S. has experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by a current or former partner or spouse, according to a 2010 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (The report makes clear that people of any gender can experience abuse, but women are most vulnerable.)
Generally, when abusers feel a loss of power or control, they become more dangerous. A frightened partner could forbid a nurse, grocery clerk, dispatcher or pharmacist from going to work or risk being locked out of her home until the pandemic is over if she defies such a command. What happens to her children in the meantime? Where does she live? What happens to her job if she stays home? To her?
These already vulnerable women – and their children – are now shut in with their abusers day and night. It’s near impossible for them to make a phone call, let alone leave – to go where? And even if we are neighbors and aware of what goes on behind closed doors, what can we do?
If a person can make a phone call, she can find help at The Women’s Freedom Center 24-hour hotline: 802-254-6954. Maybe she sees her chance 6 feet from you in the checkout lane and asks to use your phone.
How will you respond?
The Women’s Freedom Center Can Help
According to Shari, a Community Outreach Coordinator at the Women’s Freedom Center in Brattleboro, “Survivors of domestic violence already tend to be isolated. The pandemic makes their isolation more extreme. But we’re here, and all our services are in place. We have safe ways to shelter people, to help them access the court system, or help them escape.”
The Women’s Freedom Center is committed to supporting survivors of all genders who have experienced domestic or sexual violence. And they have adjusted – and even expanded – all its programming to meet the constraints and challenges of the current pandemic.
A weekly support group is now meeting remotely Monday through Friday from noon to one. All self-identified women who have experienced domestic violence can participate by audio or videoconference, depending on the technology available to them. Call the hotline for instructions to join the conversation: 802-354-6954.
Telling Our Stories to Be Rescheduled
And when it’s safe for all of us to venture into our public spaces again, we’ll reschedule Telling Our Stories, and tell our stories of survival.
Because the first step to ending sexual and domestic violence is to know that it happens.
Staying at home is certainly not a comfortable, peaceful option for many people. I am very lucky – a large house and garden and good family relationships and space to spread out – but I can hardly begin to imagine what it’s like being cooped up with an abusive partner / parent / child. This coronavirus epidemic is showing up how unequal our lives and societies are. Fine if you are in a happy home with few financial worries – horrendous if you are already struggling with money or relationships. We can only hope that the post-Covid19 world is a fairer, safer, better place for all.
Deborah Lee Luskin says
“We can only hope that the post-Covid19 world is a fairer, safer, better place for all.”
I say “Amen” to that and wonder how we will achieve it. What are we willing to do to help others thrive? Will those of us able to vote support inclusive, humane, policies? Or will the well-off democracies again choose leaders who promote exclusion, ignorance and greed?