As the coronavirus pandemic escalates, people around the world have taken refuge in their homes. While many take comfort in time spent with family members, living in close quarters indefinitely can be stressful.
Add to that fears about illness, unemployment and loss of income, and it’s easy to see why tensions in many households run high. For people living with domestic abuse, stressors such as these can be risk factors for violence.
Jmore recently spoke with Lauren Shaivitz, executive director of CHANA, the local Jewish community’s response to abuse and trauma, to learn more about what victims of domestic violence are up against and what CHANA is doing to help.
Jmore: What are CHANA’s clients are facing right now?
Shaivitz: This is a particularly difficult time for our clients. [Under normal circumstances] victims of domestic violence are intentionally isolated by their partners. But in this situation, when people are stuck at home, it makes it easier for abusers to isolate them.
In addition, during this time, tensions are particularly high.
When we do danger assessments with our clients, which we do all the time, we always ask about unemployment in the household. Unemployment is a major predictor of increased danger. During this time, when more people are unemployed or worried about becoming unemployed, clients who might normally leave the house to diffuse the tension can’t leave.
What else are you seeing?
Another concern is that clients won’t be able to access our services. They don’t have the ability to come see us. Usually, they can say they are going out to the store and then come see us, but now they have no excuse to go out since everything is closed.
A client called last week and she could only talk for two minutes at a time before her abuser walked in. She had to have a code word so that she could hang up.
Since this started, we’ve been hearing stories that are very dangerous. One woman called who used to commute a long distance to work. Now, she’s stuck at home without being able to go out. Her partner had been physically abusive in the past and she knows it’s just a matter of time before he becomes violent again. She’s worried that if she is harmed, will she be able to get medical help? Will it be too dangerous to go to a hospital because she’ll be exposed to coronavirus? One of her biggest fears is that she’ll be killed and no one will know about it.
What are some steps that CHANA is taking to help?
We always do safety planning, looking at home situations and trying to come up with plans whether the client is staying, leaving or has already left the home.
We help people to look at their homes and we give suggestions like, it’s unsafe to be in the kitchen where there are knives or in the bathroom where there are hard surfaces that could injure them if they fall.
Safety planning is more important than ever, and it is changing. For example, there are more obstacles to getting protective orders since courts aren’t open. We’re looking at the tools we’ve always used, but becoming more creative.
[If one is in danger] where can you go where you feel comfortable sharing what’s going on at home but won’t be unsafe because of the coronavirus? Many people go to their parents, for instance, but that might not be safe at this time.
For the last year, CHANA has been looking for ways that the younger generation in particular can reach out to us online. We came up with a plan to add a live chat function to our website and we were planning to roll it out this summer. Now, we’re trying to roll that out much quicker to give people another communication option.
Currently, our staff is all working remotely, and we are all available through CHANA’s regular helpline. You can call our phone number to be connected. We have also researched the best video-chat platform that is encrypted and has no call log, so people can feel safe using it.
How does CHANA work with the rest of the community to help domestic abuse victims?
I feel like our community is very lucky in that we’re so collaborative. The Associated is so good at bringing us together, pooling resources, using volunteers, looking at safety from every angle. We’re trying to educate other organizations to be mindful of the possibility of domestic abuse in their clients.
And CHANA is trying to do the same thing for clients we share with other organizations. I feel blessed that we have a community that can all come together.
For information, visit chanabaltimore.org/contact/ or call 410-234- 0030.