Domestic Violence and Child Abuse: Sometimes the Danger of COVID-19 is Being at Home

Mar 31, 2020

 

Credit CREDIT: HOKYOUNG KIM FOR NPR AND KHN

Most people are spending the majority of their time at home right now. But not everyone has a safe home. Local organizations and mental health services are using a variety of methods to provide support for victims of domestic violence and child abuse.

In the last week the St. Joseph County Sheriff’s office has seen a slight uptick in calls for family disputes and disturbances. 

People are stuck at home, sheltering from the coronavirus. Bars and restaurants are closed, sports are cancelled, people could and are being furloughed or losing their jobs. There are a lot of increases in stress levels.

Dr. John Gallagher is a Professor of Social Work at IU South Bend, and works at Oaklawn Psychiatric Center.

“When there is increased stress within an already unhealthy family system, this may lead to increases in child abuse and neglect, and potentially domestic violence.”

Amy Stewart-Brown is the Executive Director of the Family Justice Center in St. Joe County. She said her organization’s services are still open and they will continue to help victims get out of dangerous situations. 

She said family members and friends who know someone who is in a precarious situation should reach out more frequently right now.

“Do they need a ride? Do they need to use your phone to make a call? Do they just need someone with a listening and non-judgemental ear? All of those things are really important parts of being a supportive and encouraging bystander.”

Clinical Psychologist Dr. Margaret Jessop said right now people need to recognize that the fear inherent in the current situation can manifest as anger.

“Especially given the circumstances going on right now we’re better connected to the fear response and not so much why we feel the anger that we forget sometimes that fight or flight, which is the response to take care of ourselves when we’re in danger, is both a fearful and an angry response.”

Jessop said it’s important to be aware of how you are reacting to stress to avoid becoming the abuser in these situations.

“Take a break from each other. Take a walk outside if you can in your environment with the social distancing or find other outlets for some gross motor movement that will allow the body to use the feelings it’s having in a way that’s not harmful towards other people.”

Jessop said it’s important that there is no shame put on people who reach out for help. If you are struggling with mental health, with anger or with fear, there are resources to help you and your family.

Stewart-Brown said it’s important not to put that shame and blame on victims either.

“There’s nothing that you as the victim, that you’re doing to cause the violence. It’s really important that we share that message. We don’t ever want to do victim blaming. Because if an abuser is going to be violent towards their partner, that’s the choice that the abuser has made.”

Gallagher said right now people need to pay attention to the primary health crisis of COVID-19, but they also need to recognize the secondary health crisis of addressing mental health issues during isolation.

“As we address the public health, the physical health crisis, there are these many other unintended consequences or other social issues related to addiction, child abuse, domestic violence, retraumitization that we want to consider and give just as much attention to.”

Stewart-Brown and the Family Justice Center have teamed up with the St. Joseph County Police to do a social media campaign aimed at letting people know what resources are still available. The Center will continue to coordinate services and refer people in need to help.

Those in immediate danger should call 911. You can also text 911 if calling is not safe.

 

Those seeking help with domestic violence or child abuse situations can call the Family Justice Center’s 24/7 crisis line at 574-289-HELP. The Family Justice Center also offers online services, or you can message them on Facebook for help.

Or for more general information about mental health services, answers to COVID-19 questions and help with food or shelter needs call 211.