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Social Distancing and Domestic Violence

As social distancing measures heighten, so does the risk of domestic violence.

Social distancing measures have left many feeling in some way confined to their homes. By and large, essential staff are the only individuals leaving the home semi-regularly, and afterward, that’s where they return. Many others are experiencing big changes to their working and social lives: working from home, temporarily unable to work or laid off. It’s an emotionally heightened situation for all, with many having the good fortune to remain safely in their own home. But for individuals at risk of domestic violence, it may entail just the opposite.

Such a heightened situation can increase the risk of incidents of violence or abuse. For instance an abuser may be in a volatile state due to the loss of a job, self-medication, or both. Simultaneously, it may pull victims away from their natural supports like friends, family or services. With most places closed, they may feel they—and potentially their children—have nowhere to go.

For individuals who are at risk or actively in the throes of a domestic violence situation, it may be an extremely fearful, isolating or dangerous time. With this in mind, there are some crucial details to remember:

If you know someone who may be at risk, consider reaching out to them and sharing these reminders.

1.You can still have a safety plan.
As many domestic violence cases are unique and uniquely complicated, those who are at risk can maintain a safety plan adequate to their needs to be used during or in anticipation of a crisis situation. In the event of an incident, or in anticipation of such, be sure they know to whom or where they would go, or what they would do. Sometimes it’s a matter of ensuring they always have their cell phone on them so they can call 911. If kids are involved, making sure they know what to do in case of an incident is also important.

The safety plan may outline some things that may seem obvious, but it’s important to consider that in a moment of crisis, the brain may not function in the same way as it would when calmer. Laying out a plan in advance can help train the mind of these facts and protect oneself in heightened situations.

2. Although many things are closed, you can still get a restraining order.
Many things are currently shut down or operating virtually, and this can mean, or make it seem, like support for those at risk is more limited. While things like housing court are not meeting, this does not mean those at risk can’t get a restraining order. Most jurisdictions consider obtaining a legal protection order an essential service, and may even be available over the phone or email. There’s still a liaison with the courts who will help an individual get a restraining order, whether the middle of the day or two in the morning.

3. The police will still respond.
Emergency personnel are essential, and so is the safety of the individual(s) at risk. Local police departments are still operating at full force. In an emergency situation, it’s important to remember that they are accessible at the number we all know: 911. If it’s not safe for you to call, see the next entry for recommendations on safely communicating with someone who can help.

In many cases, someone at risk may think that calling the police or seeking emergency action will put them (and potentially their children) at risk of losing their natural supports, including income or other financial support and child care. While there is potential for a major disruption, there are resources available to help be connected to Transitional Assistance, shelter and more, which are outlined further below.

4. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
Highly trained, expert advocates with the National Domestic Violence Hotline are always available to talk confidentially with those experiencing domestic violence, those in search of resources or information and/or those questioning unhealthy aspects of their relationship. In addition to this support, the Hotline is available to provide tools for immediate support to empower victims and survivors to find safety, and offer support to those concerned about loved ones.

If it is unsafe for someone to call, or they don’t feel comfortable doing so, this service is also available through the Hotline’s live chat service at thehotline.org. Both services are available all day and night every day of the year at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or https://www.thehotline.org/. Chat is also available in Spanish; El chat en español está disponible de 12 p.m. a 6 p.m. Hora Central.

5. Transitional Assistance is still available.
The info below pertains to Massachusetts and Connecticut. If you live in another state, visit your state’s government website to learn more about transitional assistance and other benefits.

While the MA Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) and CT Department of Social Services (DSS) are closed to in-person visits, these departments have fully transitioned to assisting clients over the phone and online, which is the case for many other U.S. States. Those in MA and CT can visit the links below to the DTA and DSS webpages (respectively) to learn more about applying for assistance. Follow the links below for more details.

MA Residents: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/dta-covid-19-resources-and-support#learn-how-to-apply-or-check-the-status-of-your-dta-benefits-

CT Residents: https://www.connect.ct.gov/access/jsp/access/Home.jsp

6. Remember, you’re not alone.
While many are social distancing, it’s important to remain connected to any supports needed. Those at risk should keep their friends and family members aware of their situation, and connect with an advocate through The National Domestic Violence Hotline, either by phone or chat, or, in an emergency situation, call the police.

“Economic control is a huge part of domestic violence. I think it’s really important for people to know that they do have options. One of the things that keeps people in an abusive relationship is thinking if they leave their abuser who is the sole or primary breadwinner their lives could get much harder. And it can get harder. There’s no getting around that. But there are resources to help.”

- Laura Reichsman - Director, CHD’s Family Outreach of Amherst