‘I’m worried’: Stay home orders spark concern for abuse victim advocates
SPOKANE, Wash. — Americans are being asked to stay home as much as possible to slow the spread of COVID-19 — but what do you do when staying home means running the risk of getting abused?
“All the time, our clients are in danger, but when I think about our clients being isolated in their homes, of course I am worried,” says Lutheran Community Services district director Erin Williams-Hueter. “Any kind of abuse really thrives in isolation and when people are separated from their systems of support, abuse is allowed to flourish.”
Williams-Hueter knows more time at home will translate to a higher risk of abuse for children, couples and the elderly. The coronavirus is keeping people from seeing friends and family, but it is also keeping them from picking up on warning signs of abuse. Some kids who have been taken out of school are now without trusted adults who can look after them. Elderly men and women in retirement homes are being isolated from their loved ones who know them best.
“There’s no doubt that this is what we have to do to keep everyone safe,” said YWCA Spokane’s mental health services director Melva Moore. “The other side of me, the part that is more the advocate, the advocate side of me, knows that people are going to be trapped in their homes for longer than it’s safe.”
Washington’s stay home order, issued by Gov. Jay Inslee this week, includes an exemption specifically for victims of abuse and domestic violence. As women who work with survivors everyday, Williams-Hueter and Moore know it is hard enough for victims to free themselves from abusive relationships and seek out help — this pandemic only makes it worse.
“That’s something family violence victims are thinking all the time — ‘is it more dangerous if I leave?,'” Williams-Hueter said. “Then we add this added component of, ‘is it more dangerous? Because I could get sick. My children could get sick.'”
With hospitals filling up fast, Williams-Hueter worries victims of sexual abuse will now feel even less inclined to get rape kits after they have been assaulted.
“When I think about the circumstances now, I just feel terrified for people and the potential loss of evidence,” she says.
In an effort to connect with victims in the midst of the pandemic, the YWCA and Lutheran Community Services have both switched over to remote and telehealth appointments. Williams-Hueter says the shift has been a lot for the non-profit to take on, because it created so many unexpected expenses. To combat costs and sustain its telehealth operations, Lutheran Community Services fundraising for as long as it needs to.
“To any person out there struggling with abuse and whether or not to risk their safety to get help, I just want to tell you that we believe you,” she says. “We support you. We are here for you.”
While friends and family may be physically separated, Williams-Hueter and Moore say that does not mean they have to be emotionally isolated as well. They encourage people to check in with their loved ones — whether it is with a text, a phone call or a talk over FaceTime.
“When we then have this stay home, stay healthy order in place, we see this idea of isolation become a lot bigger and become a lot more dangerous,” Moore says. “We need friends and family within a survivor’s life in order to help keep her safe.”
Those seeking out help can contact the YWCA and Lutheran Community Services at any time of the day. In addition to its traditional hotline, LCS has a text hotline to give those enduring abuse the chance to reach out for help even if they cannot use their voice. If you are or someone you know is struggling with abuse, you can reach LCS at 509-624-7273. To connect with a victim advocate at the YWCA, call 509-326-2255. Both hotlines are up and running 24 hours a day.
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