Emerge Center Against Domestic Abuse: The impacts of 'sheltering at home' when your home is unsafe

Emerge Center Against Domestic Abuse: The impacts of 'sheltering at home' when your home is unsafe

The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer.

Imagine this: you’ve finally scored a pack of toilet paper for yourself and your household. Between homeschooling your two kids, trying to maintain your job (which is still on-site, not work-from-home) and keeping up on household chores, it’s been tough for you to hang out at Target at 7 a.m. to wait in line for toilet paper.

When you get home with your treasure, excited to share your great accomplishment, your partner immediately seizes it and shoves you down onto the couch. He’s angry because you didn’t ask his permission to spend money, and so he’s telling you that you’re not allowed to use any of the toilet paper. He’s keeping it for himself and the kids, and you’re on your own.

While the concept of “stay at home to stay safe” is highly effective for stemming the spread of a virus, it significantly increases risk for people whose primary danger is actually in their home. The COVID-19 pandemic and related responses have greatly exacerbated the risk that domestic violence survivors are facing in Pima County.

At Emerge! Center Against Domestic Abuse, survivors who have reached out to us for help during this pandemic are telling us that being able to connect to us has been significantly more difficult, because being confined to the home with their abusive partner is accompanied by a remarkable decrease in freedom to access their support networks and Emerge’s services.

And even with the decrease in freedom, Emerge has received an average of 18 calls per day on our hotline during March and the first half of April, as compared to 20 per day in the months leading up to the outbreak.

The 24/7 crisis hotline number is 888-428-0101.

Beyond any statistics, the human beings beyond those numbers are sharing that the pandemic — and its related social and economic impacts — have left them feeling more alone, isolated and hopeless than ever.

The number of calls involving suicidal ideation are up sharply over the past several weeks.

The amount of physical violence also appears to be on the rise, along with new justifications being used for abusive behaviors (e.g., “I’m under so much stress”) and new forms of control like withholding or limiting access to medical care, food or toilet paper.

Additionally, many people who would have otherwise chosen to leave their abusive relationships are staying — or even returning to an abusive relationship after having previously left — due to the financial hardships associated with restarting life in the midst of an economic shutdown.

Even after Arizona’s economy starts to “reopen,” we know there will be long lasting challenges for many who are trying to secure adequate employment again.

The impact of COVID-19 on domestic violence survivors has been multi-faceted and has increased their level of risk at the same time as opportunities to access services and other support systems has faded away.

Our community needs domestic violence services to be readily available now more than ever. We also know that, while this outbreak and the related isolation measures will end, the damage done to our community’s most vulnerable will impact them for a long time to come.

As such, these life-saving services must also be here over the long haul to ensure our community has adequate resources to address this other important public health crisis: domestic violence.

Ed Mercurio-Sakwa is the CEO at Emerge! Center Against Domestic Abuse. Learn more at emergecenter.org; the 24/7 hotline number is 888-428-0101.

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