Opinion | There's help for survivors of domestic violence during stay-home order

Barbara Niess-May

Barbara Niess-May is executive director of SafeHouse Center in Ann Arbor, which works to combat domestic violence and sexual assault

Throughout Michigan and the country, it has become clear that survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence have less privacy and face more danger than ever before to reach out for help and support during the pandemic.   

Survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, as well as their friends and family, deserve to know that programs like SafeHouse Center remain open for survivors to call for help, support, and safe shelter.  We acknowledge that many law enforcement agencies and programs like SafeHouse Center have not had spikes in calls related to domestic violence and sexual assault.  We believe this is for the following reasons:

  1. Fear of calling 911.  There has been coverage about emptying prisons and jails, and survivors are less likely to call 911 because they feel certain that their assailant would be released and will return home even though there are no contact orders put in place.
  2. Isolation, a tactic on the Power and Control Wheel.  Isolation is often the first step an abuser uses to convince a victim that their controller is the most important person in the world. By using isolation as a method to cut off family and friends, the abusive partner has a greater amount of control in the relationship.  This includes watching what a survivor is doing at all times, perhaps removing communication devices, limiting access to family and friends as well as not letting them out of their sight.  Survivors do not have a chance to reach out for support, especially with the stay home order in place.
  3. Dependency on assailant income.  There may be fear of leaving reliable income and going to a shelter.  And, as they look into the future, they may wonder how possible employment is in this recession.  They may not see a clear path to accessing child care, looking for a job or finding housing.
  4. Assailants effectively use power and control tactics.  Once an assailant uses the tactics, survivors learn quickly what the assailant is capable of, and will continue to believe that they could use the tactics.    
  5. Lack of privacy.  What enables a survivor to escape abuse is extensive safety planning.  A critical component of safety planning is having privacy to plan and leave.  

We need communities to be part of supporting survivors and sharing information that services are available.  To be part of reaching and helping survivors in this pandemic, we are asking for community members to:

  1. Educate yourself about the dynamics of domestic violence.  Here is a resource page to learn more about how to help a friend or family member experiencing abuse.  
  2. Follow domestic violence and sexual assault support programs on social media and share information on personal, neighborhood, and community pages.
  3. As restrictions are lifted, continue to help and support survivors.  Even though restrictions are lifted, the recession presents another set of challenges.

While survivors may be prevented from reaching out, we know that assailants are still being assailants.  We want survivors to know we hear and see you.  Help and support (free and confidential shelter, counseling, PPO assistance and other assistance)  is available right now for those who can safely reach out and it will be there when ready.

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