Home covid Domestic violence advocates brace for crisis

Domestic violence advocates brace for crisis

Veronica Figueroa. Photo courtesy of BRAVA Magazine.

If you are experiencing domestic violence or fear that you might, call DAIS at 608.255.4445 or UNIDOS Against Domestic Violence at 800.510.9195. Both lines are staffed 24 hours per day.

Domestic violence prevention and intervention organizations are bracing for an increase in calls for help as the coronavirus pandemic leads to stress around finances, social isolation and children being home from school.

“People are overwhelmed,” said Veronica Figueroa, executive director of UNIDOS Against Domestic Violence. “People losing their jobs and their income, worried about not having a home soon if they can’t pay rent. And just a lot of stress related to the situation.”

Domestic Abuse Intervention Services executive director Shannon Barry said her organization saw calls for help double from 2008 to 2009 as the world’s economy slipped into a global recession.

“Not to minimize it, but that was just a recession,” she said. “What we’re looking at (now) is something that is much more complex for people in terms of the social isolation and the financial impact on families that are already feeling stress.”

“Oftentimes we forget that violence at home is the number one safety issue in concern that we have to worry about,” Figueroa said. “Food is important, transportation is important. All of those things are important. But part of being healthy is having a healthy relationship and a healthy place to stay and be during this time. If you don’t have that, all that uncertainty can cause a lot of fear and stress both for adults and children.”

Barry said children being at home can add to the stress, and sometimes put those kids in danger.

“We also know that just every year during the summer months when kids are home, that’s when we also see an increase in call volumes,” she said. “When people are with their kids, and there’s that added stress of the pandemic, the social isolation, their kids being there, and then financial concerns …  we are very concerned.”

Figueroa said it’s the kids who aren’t in school that have her most concerned.

“Just to think that there are kids at home and the school is their safety net and they don’t have that. It really breaks my heart,” she said. “I wake up every morning thinking about the kids.”

Barry said that so far, the Dane County Courts have not stopped issuing restraining orders as necessary. Additionally, Figueroa said public safety and law enforcement are still ready to help.

“Because we are at home doesn’t mean that the police are at home too. They’re out there still doing the work and trying to support the community as much as they can,” she said.

Both Barry and Figueroa stressed that staying at home doesn’t mean you have to stay somewhere unsafe.

“Social distance doesn’t mean that you have to be at home in a home (where) you don’t feel safe,” Figueroa said. “We have things in place to be able to put you in a hotel if we have to for the time being for your safety. We’ve done that already for a couple of our clients.”

No matter what happens with the pandemic, “we do not want people to hesitate to call us. We will be there,” Barry said.

Both said their helplines remain open 24/7. Barry said some DAIS staff who can’t do their regular jobs, such as prevention staff who normally work in schools, have now been cross-trained to take calls on the helpline.

The DAIS helpline can be reached at 608.251.4445. The UNIDOS helpline, which is able to help people in Spanish, is at 800.510.9195.