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What Social Distancing Means for Domestic Violence Survivors

“It’s been 3 weeks since I’ve left the house and I’m getting more scared for my life,” said a survivor of domestic violence to WTLC’s Helpline Advocate over the phone. “My boyfriend has been getting more frustrated stuck at home and he’s been taking his anger out on me.” *Aleela’s boyfriend was furloughed due to the Coronavirus pandemic and has been increasingly more erratic at home, drinking during the day and staying up all night.

For many people, social distancing means hunkering down at home and maybe binge-watching some Netflix shows while scrolling through their social media feeds from the comfort of their couches. But for domestic violence survivors, it means living in fear of the person in the room next to them, experiencing threats, constant monitoring, and being further isolated from the resources that could help them.

Every year, more than 10 million Americans face domestic violence, and 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. Trauma experts warn that people who are facing violence in their relationships at home may be experiencing increased insolation and danger caused by social distancing guidelines during the Coronavirus pandemic. More than ever before, home is actually a dangerous place to be for survivors of domestic violence and many may be forced to stay at home with their abuser due to loss of economic means.

Women’s Transitional Living Center (WTLC) CEO Mark Lee says, “Social distancing guidelines mean survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking are at risk of being trapped with an abusive partner and with limited opportunities to access vital resources.”

In 2019, WTLC served over 1,300 survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking and provided 186 adults and 140 children with emergency shelter.

WTLC’s 24 Hour Helpline and emergency shelter remain open for survivors in need of services during this time and the organization continues to provide tele-services – safe and confidential case management through video conferencing and chatting, legal advocacy work, and tele-mental health services to families and survivors in need.

Increased insolation and stress due to social distancing may increase the risk of abuse. It can be helpful to know the signs that violence might be escalating. Here are a few signs to look for:

-Your partner might use social distancing as an excuse to keep you inside the home, further isolating you from family and friends.

-Your partner might try to limit you or your child’s access to medical care by withholding important medical information, in an attempt to frighten you and keep you inside the house.

-Your partner might threaten to kick you out in an attempt to exert control over you, knowing that there is limited access to public transportation and other spaces for you to go.

Are you experiencing increased isolation and danger due to social distancing? Create a safety plan that will help during this stressful time. WTLC can help survivors walk through a potential safety plan at 1-877-531-5522.  When making your safety plan, especially in light of the new uncertainty for most of our daily lives, here are 10 safety planning tips:

1. Trust your judgment. If a situation/individual makes you uncomfortable, trust that feeling.

2. Change your exit plan to account for shelter-in-place requirements as different localities have different public health advice regarding movement and gatherings.

3. Let a trusted friend/relative know if you feel like you are in danger or if a person/situation is suspicious.

4. If you feel your abuser may be monitoring your communications, delete calls and messages, use coded language, or chat online in “incognito” mode.

5. Keep important numbers on your person at all times, including the number of someone you feel safe contacting if you are in trouble.

6. Make sure that you have a means of communication (cell phone or phone card), access to your bank account, and any medication that you might need with you at all times.

7. Plan regular phone or video chat check-ins with your friends, family, and people you trust.

8. Practice self-care even if you can’t leave the house – make sure you’re eating enough, try to get enough sleep, and if you’re able to leave the house, try taking a daily walk outside.

9. Recognize when it might be time to leave. Even during a “shelter in place” situation, escaping an abuser is considered “essential” travel.

10. Be an ally – check in on your friends and neighbors during this time. If you see something suspicious, call 911.

If you, or someone you know, are experiencing abuse and are in need of assistance, call WTLC’s 24 Hour Helpline at 1-877-531-5522 or text love@wtlc.org. In an emergency, always call 911.

*The name of the survivor has been changed to protect their identity.

*Statistic provided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)