Daily life has never been static, as change is part of life. Currently, however, the changes are unlike any in recent history. Identifying ways that coronavirus, the virus which causes Covid-19, has altered the status quo is likely be an ongoing process. Statistics related to how the pandemic is affecting families struggling with domestic violence, also known as intimate partner violence (IPV), are just beginning to emerge. It has been suspected that IPV was on the rise. Indeed, many U.S. counties have seen increased IPV episodes. According to the National Institute of Health and the U.S. National Library of Medicine, Jefferson County law enforcement reported a 27 percent increase of domestic violence calls in March 2020 compared to March of 2019. If urban counties are experiencing higher rates of domestic violence, rural areas are doing so as well. However, victims in rural areas have different challenges which make getting help more problematic.
First, a victim who lives outside of a city, even if it’s a small city, may have too far to go to get help. One Bethesda House resident walked 11 miles in order to reach a medical facility, hiding in woods and wetlands along the way. By the time she got to help, she was experiencing hypothermia. If children are involved, getting away is even more difficult.
A second issue is that rural communities are close-knit. It is difficult to make a change if many others are going to know about it. Family members on both sides of a relationship often live within the community and have the same friends. Getting help will inevitably embarrass someone. People are intensely private and prefer that no one knows the family issues. The problem is that hiding intimate partner violence is a lot like covering for an alcoholic or substance addict – it enables. Families are notorious enablers. Rather than calling out dangerous behavior, they look the other way, make excuses for it, or worst of all – they blame the victim.
Finally, resources available for helping domestic violence victims are often much more limited in rural areas. Fortunately, Covington county is uniquely equipped to help those who need assistance, due to the South Alabama Victim Services Collaborative, which is made up of law enforcement departments, the Youth Advocate Program Adult Services (YAP), and several organizations, including Bethesda House. The Collaborative actually serves both Covington and Butler counties. When the police or sheriff’s department are called for a domestic disturbance, the officers often call on YAP to assist if the victim wishes to be removed from the environment.
Advocates who work with YAP offer many services, including assistance with filing a protection from abuse (PFA) order and therapy. It is often YAP advocates who contact Bethesda House on behalf of victims seeking shelter. Once they reach Bethesda House, victims are provided safe shelter, food, and a range of services free-of-charge.
The pandemic is slowing the process of bringing victims into shelter. New victims coming into Bethesda House must be quarantined for 14 days. During the quarantine, or isolation period, the resident is limited to certain parts of the shelter and must wear a mask at all times when not in her own room. Currently, one room in Bethesda House is designated for isolation. This has been a concern, as prior to Covid-19, more than one new resident at a time could be brought into the shelter.
Those who are in the work of assisting intimate partner violence victims are painfully aware that the numbers of episodes are increasing. Advocates worry about victims who need assistance, but can’t get out. If victims can contact one of the Collaborative partners, they are on the ready to offer assistance, even if that means connecting callers with another shelter, providing support to write a protection from abuse order, or helping them develop a safety plan for staying out of harm’s way in the future.
Anyone who lives in Covington or Butler county and is in a dangerous living environment due to intimate partner violence, should contact YAP at 334.582.1580. Intimate partner violence victims outside of Covington or Butler county, should contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800.799.SAFE (7233). For information about Bethesda House, see the website: bethesdahouseofmercy.com or find the organization on Facebook (@BethesdaHouse1), Instagram (@bethesdahouseal), and Twitter (@BethesdaAL).
Covid-19 has changed many things about daily life. Yet how a community responds to those changes will shape the outcomes. Change, no matter what the cause, can offer an opportunity to do things differently - better - and to make a difference in the life of another – perhaps even save the life of another.
National Institute of Health and the US National Library of Medicine