The coronavirus pandemic has created what Lauren Shaivitz, executive director of CHANA, calls a “crisis within a crisis” for survivors of domestic abuse.
“Since the pandemic started, we’ve seen a terrible uptick in domestic violence situations,” she says.
To raise awareness about the situation, CHANA, a program of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore marking its 25th anniversary this year, will present “Voices: Stories of Survival.”
The half-hour virtual gathering for CHANA supporters and survivors of domestic violence and abuse will be held on Oct. 21 at 7 p.m. The presentation will feature a video produced by CHANA prevention educator Zoe Reznick Gewanter in partnership with New Lens Productions, a local social justice studio.
Shaivitz hopes the program will raise awareness about the experiences of domestic abuse survivors.
“We looked at the numbers of patients between April and August of 2019 and compared it to April to August of 2020, and saw a 35 percent increase in clients,” she says. “There’s also been a 138 percent increase in the length of each call, and the situations are more dangerous and complex.”
In addition, says Shaivitz, “Shelter visits are up by 105 percent.”
There are some obvious reasons for the increase of domestic abuse internationally, says Shaivitz. Because of the pandemic, “there is so much isolation and people are in close proximity to and quarantining with their abusers,” she says. “Abusers control victims, and proximity makes it easier to do that. There is no opportunity [for survivors] to walk away or deescalate tensions.”
Skyrocketing unemployment caused by the pandemic is another major contributor to the problem since it is “directly related to danger levels,” she says, while drug and alcohol use, another risk factor, is up by 250 percent.
Making the situation even more challenging to victims and professionals in the domestic violence field is the fact that “COVID-19 has created a new category of abuse,” says Shaivitz. Ordinarily, professionals recognize several categories of abuse, including financial, sexual, physical, psychological and verbal. Nowadays, “abusers are finding new ways to abuses. Spitting on survivors, bringing large groups of people into the home and not social distancing when the abuser is out of the house are some of the behaviors that abusers are currently using to terrify and control their victims,” says Shaivitz.
When the pandemic first began, CHANA staff found that fewer survivors were leaving their abusers.
“They had to choose whether it was scarier to stay in their homes with their abusers or to go somewhere else where they might be exposed to the virus,” says Shaivitz. “Now we’re seeing people leaving, but I still believe we’ll see more people leaving after the pandemic.”
One population that has been less active in seeking help during the pandemic is elderly survivors.
“Sixty percent of elder abuse is perpetuated by children and grandchildren, and we’re not seeing as much of that [reported],” Shaivitz said.
One reason for that change is that older adults are dependent on family members for food and medication, she said, so they cannot risk reporting their abusers and losing access to that support.
Also, says Shaivitz, older adults are not out in the community as much as usual due to the pandemic. “They’re not going to senior centers and other places where people who care about them can watch them and see red flags. We anticipate the numbers will spike after the pandemic,” she says.
Survivors are also challenged by court closures due to the pandemic. “People are waiting for decisions about child support and other financial matters,” says Shaivitz.
All communities are vulnerable to domestic violence, emphasizes Reznick Gewanter. “We can’t change what we can’t see,” she says. “To create awareness, there is a need to make this reality and the people living through it visible. My hope is to share something people can connect with so that we can better support survivors.”
For information and to register for the virtual event, visit chanabaltimore.org/events/voicesofchana/