October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and it’s a good time to have some hard conversations about how home can be a dangerous place. Especially after the uncertainty of Covid restrictions, lockdowns, and other stressors, we’ve heard more and more about how challenging and complex domestic violence situations can be. Now is as important of a time as ever to offer support to those affected by domestic violence and sexual assault. Here’s how you can help:
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. If you are concerned about your personal safety or a loved one’s, please contact your local police department or a local organization that can help.
The Pandemic’s Impact
“It’s well-documented that sexual violence spikes during natural disasters, such as a pandemic. Tension and chaos, a depletion of emergency resources, and stress are all contributing factors” Marissa Marzano, Communications Manager for the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NJCASA) explained to Hoboken Girl. At normal times, individuals can seek help when they are alone. Now, with shelter-in-place orders enforced in many cities and many ordered to stay inside, individuals confined at home may find it difficult to find a time and place where they can call for help.
In the U.S, the impacts of the outbreak on domestic violence have just begun to unfold. Data from other countries offer a dire outlook. According to Sixth Tone, an online magazine in China, 2020 reports of domestic violence nearly doubled since cities went into lockdown in Hubei, the epicenter of the outbreak.
The special circumstances during this time can also make interventions and treatment more challenging. As Marissa Marzano from NJCASA explained to Hoboken Girl, there can be complications in cases in which individuals go back home to live with family members who are not aware of their survivorship. In other cases, someone who experiences assault during quarantine may hesitate to seek medical treatment for fear of exposure to the virus. According to Marissa, even in “normal” times, sexual assault is the most underreported crime. During the current crisis, we all should stay even more alerted to the increasing risks.
These instances can be more than just physical as well. Other forms of these situations can be subtler but no less damaging, especially in domestic settings. For example, isolation, intimidation, and controlling behaviors, including economic and financial controls, are also forms of abuse.
Sometimes minor, one-off incidents or initial red flags that many try to brush away can escalate to more frequent and severe assaults. So if you suspect you or someone you know is suffering from an abusive relationship, do not hesitate to seek help, even in the time of a pandemic.
Where to Get Help + What to Expect
While many traditional forms of support have had to modify operations as a result of the pandemic, there are more virtual resources than ever. From hotlines to online chats, support organizations have gotten creative with how they reach victims. Read on to learn more about some local and national resources.
In Hudson County, individuals can also seek help directly from WomenRising. The organization is a Hudson County member of the New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence, a network of programs and organizations throughout the state that work together and share resources to help those affected by domestic violence and raise public awareness of this issue. The organization provides a wide range of services to local families, including counseling, crisis intervention, legal assistance, and housing support, including emergency sheltering.
Speaking of their operation during the COVID-19 lockdown, a spokesperson from WomenRising told Hoboken Girl that the 24/7 hotline at 201-333-5700 remains open and is responding to all new requests. The counselors have also been in touch with existing clients to provide continued support. The partnering shelters and safe houses are open to those fleeing imminent dangers. When asked what individuals would expect when they call the hotline, the spokesperson explained that the action plan depends on individual cases.
Through the initial conversations, trained staff members will evaluate the situation and the level of threat, and figure out the best course of intervention. “The most important thing is to make the phone call and start to talk to a staff member.”
Marissa at NJCASA told Hoboken Girl that services for those affected by sexual assault also vary by county. In Hudson county, people can reach NJCASA’s local member, Hudson S.P.E.A.K.S, via their 24/7 hotline at 201-795-5757 to get help. A spokesperson from Hudson S.P.E.A.K.S explained to Hoboken Girl that although the in-person services have been suspended due to the pandemic, people (including new cases) in need can reach the organization by phone, and they are also exploring other video conference options. She particularly pointed out that rape kits are available at local hospitals, and if a victim is emotionally vulnerable from a recent incident, he or she can have a Hudson S.P.E.A.K.S advocate virtually accompany them through the process. Individuals can also reach the organization by phone and get access to counseling, information, and referrals, or just speak to someone confidentially about their experience.
NJCASA also encourages those in need to get help, “whether [they’ve] experienced an assault recently and need to work through next steps, or if they were assaulted years ago and need someone to talk to. The traumatic impact of sexual violence is long-lasting, and situations like a global pandemic can trigger that trauma to the surface.”
The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE  is open 24/7. If the victim deems it dangerous to speak on the phone, he or she can also chat with an advocate confidentially through a secure internal communication tool. New Jersey also has a confidential sexual violence hotline, which remains available at 800-601-7200.
Sunshine Behavioral Health’s resources discuss teen dating violence and ways to prevent domestic violence through education. They also have a list of free hotlines and organizations for domestic violence victims to reach out to as well as a shelter locator.
How You Can Help
Here are a few ways you can positively contribute to the cause.
Contact Local Members of Congress to Ask for More Funding
When asked about the preparations taken to address the current crisis, WomenRising also mentioned that in anticipation of an uptick in domestic violence cases during the COVID-19 outbreak, local organizations and advocates have been working actively to call for increased fundings for a series of federal programs that provide emergency shelter and/or address the housing need for survivors. So if you are concerned about these issues, you can help by emailing the staff members of their local representatives, or tweet their congresspeople directly, and urge them to increase funding
The request is to increase FVPSA funds by $100 million, increase Domestic Violence Bonus HUD funds by $50 million, eliminate match requirements, and ensure ESG funds are available for domestic violence programs. The Twitter handle for NJ-8 District congressman Albio Sires is @RepSires. The office’s contact for women’s issues is Dan Latu email@example.com. The contact information for other representatives can be found here and here.
Donate to Local Programs
Local programs and facilities are at the frontline of fighting social issues and protecting those affected. Resources for them would be strained during the COVID-19 crisis as the need for intervention surges. If you want to chip in and help, here is a list of local non-profits working with many that are focused on helping disadvantaged local families} to donate to.
Check Up on Friends
In the midst of all the social distancing and self-isolation when we do not see our friends often, early signs of abuse can easily go unnoticed. Make sure to check up on friends frequently, and if you detect any sign of emotional strain, encourage them to talk about their issues. Listen without judging, and if there is any sign of domestic violence, even if the person affected tries to brush it away, make sure to let them know that any type of abuse is not acceptable. Point them to resources to seek help, and offer emotional and even financial assistance. We are in this together.