With at least a quarter of the world currently under lockdown to curb the wildfire spread of the coronavirus pandemic – many domestic violence victims are in the even more intolerable situation of being isolated at home with their abuser. They are afraid to seek medical treatment or help from anyone else for fear of getting infected or live in areas with extremely strict quarantine enforcement.
Many domestic violence advocates and agencies across the world are reporting a spike in calls from victims for assistance. Others, such as the National Domestic Violence Helpline in the USA, noted that there had been fewer calls in recent days, not because there is a reduction in domestic violence rates but because self-isolation has made it harder for victims to report it.
With most people in isolation and domestic violence organisations stretched to the limit, neighbours and communities are now on the frontline of helping women and children in abusive households. If you are an individual or community looking for ways to help domestic violence victims during the pandemic, this list offers some actionable ideas you can take. Depending on individual circumstances, not all of the suggestions may be suitable or applicable for you or the victim you are helping, but we hope that this will be a useful starting point.
With the Coronavirus pandemic likely raging on for at least several months more, we invite anti-violence against women organisations, communities, and individuals worldwide to share methods and actions that they have found successful and/or useful under current movement restrictions. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will add your recommendations/suggestions to the list.
Action Suggestion #1: Donate MONEY
With the volume of calls and messages to domestic violence helplines worldwide already surging, domestic violence agencies everywhere need funding more than ever. Every donation will help them keep their services running and to build the capacity they need to handle the tsunami of cases currently being faced due to lockdowns.
Not sure where to start with this because you’re not familiar with your local, state/provincial, or national domestic violence organisations? Here’s where you can find out:
- For those in the USA: Search for your nearest local domestic violence organisation or women’s shelter via domesticshelters.org.
- For those in Canada: Check out this list of domestic violence organisations by province.
- For the rest of the world: Follow The Pixel Project on Twitter where we tweet out the helplines of over 30 countries worldwide from 8pm – midnight New York Time.
Action Suggestion #2: Ask The Question
Megan Walker, the executive director of the London Abused Women’s Center in Canada, has this piece of advice for neighbours: “If you know somebody that’s isolated or might be struggling, make sure you ask the question: ‘Are you being abused?’ […] They’re more likely to respond if they’re asked than just to come out (with it) themselves.”
Bea Cote, the founder and executive director of Impact Family Services/Step Up To Family Safety in the USA suggests ‘Is he hurting you?’ because sometimes victims may not able to recognise the signs of abuse.
DO NOT WAIT.
- If your city, state, or country announces that quarantine, lockdown, or shelter-in-place mandates are imminent and you already suspect that your family member, friend, or neighbour is a victim of domestic violence, ask them this question as soon as you can reach them or you see them. This will help with planning how you can help them once quarantine sets in.
- If quarantine, lockdown, or shelter-in-place mandates are already ongoing, find a way to contact the person to ask them this question.
Action Suggestion #3: Be On Standby To Raise The Alarm (Without Breaking Quarantine)
If you know or suspect your friend, family member, or neighbour is suffering from domestic violence, offer to be on standby to receive her text or call. Have your phone on and fully charged at all times and keep it with you. Work out a plan to get an external intervention operation in action and have the following numbers on speed dial, ready to use:
- The national Domestic Violence helpline, if your country has one.
- The local Domestic Violence shelter helpline, wherever the victim is located.
- The local police, wherever the victim is located.
- The local emergency services helpline, wherever the victim is located.
Make sure to contact all of these should you receive an urgent SOS from the victim. Not all of them may be able to help while the pandemic is raging on but at least one of them can.
Action Suggestion #4: Set a ‘Safe’ Word/Phrase.
In violent or emergency situations, your neighbour, friend, or family member who is being abused may not be able to text or say much.
Suggest that she have an agreed ‘safe’ word or phrase with you or anyone she knows who has their phone on standby to receive any emergency calls/texts from her. Do not use the word “Help” as that may tip off the abuser but do keep the word short and simple.
Action Suggestion #5: Close The Communication Gap
A woman might only have a few minutes to an hour or two for a critical phone call while her abuser is out of earshot and she is out of his line of sight. Maybe he’s out in the yard or playing a video game or she’s allowed out on a grocery run.
If you receive a phone call from her then, use that time to ask her how she’s doing and to do some safety planning. Be mindful that the call may be cut short at any time if the abuser comes back and remind the victim to scrub the call from her call logs.
If you see her in the garden or across the road collecting her mail, greet her. A conversation with a neighbour on the street — even one with six feet/2 metres of space between both of you — will probably not arouse as much suspicion as a phone call.
If the victim does not want any intervention, make sure to note the time of the call or screenshot the chat conversation, especially if she can’t do it herself (e.g. she needs to delete the call or text message log from her phone before her abuser finds out). By doing this, you will be able to keep a partial record of what’s happening in case she does ask for or requires help in the future.
Action Suggestion #6: Check In Regularly
If you fear for your friend or family member’s life over the quarantine/lockdown period, call or text her once a day at a random time to see if she is all right.
If the victim is your neighbour, keep an eye out on the house and your ears pricked for any signs or sounds of violence.
Action Suggestion #7: Interrupt the Violence (Social Distancing Style)
One of the most common ways that neighbours and communities can intervene is to interrupt the violence. In pre-Coronavirus times, typical actions one could take would range from knocking on the perpetrator’s door to ask to borrow a cup of sugar to calling emergency services to report the abuse as it happens.
Preventing the spread of Coronavirus includes keeping 6 feet away from the next person, and the police in many areas are experiencing personnel re-assignment to quarantine enforcement or are hit by a shortage of officers. Because of this, you may have to find ways of creating an interruption from a distance. Here are a couple of ideas of what to do if you hear a beating happening in your neighbour’s house:
- If you live in a neighbourhood that is predominantly houses: Grab a metal pot and ladle, stand about 5 – 6 feet away from the perpetrator’s doorstep and start banging loudly and shouting: “Shame on you! We hear you! Stop beating your wife!” (or girlfriend or name of the victim). This would alert the rest of the neighbourhood as well as any patrolling police officers.
- If you live in an apartment with balconies: Alert the rest of your neighbours by text message to go out to their respective balconies. Then go to your balcony and, together with the rest of the neighbours, start yelling non-stop for your neighbour to stop the beating.
The key is to interrupt the attack before it turns into a murder and to let the perpetrator know that the community is aware of his abusive behaviour and transgressions.
Action Suggestion #8: Provide Relief Where You Can
If your know a domestic violence victim whose abuser is using the Coronavirus quarantine/lockdown as an excuse to further isolate her by forbidding her to even do a grocery run, do a random act of kindness for her.
Whether it’s because the abuser works in an essential services role or you happen to see him leave the home, you may find an opportunity to check on the victim. Here are a few ideas of what you can do without breaking quarantine while the perpetrator is out:
- Offer to keep her company on the phone to plan her escape.
- Offer to pick up groceries for her on your grocery run and leave it on her doorstep for her.
- Leave a box of masks, hand sanitiser, and soap on her doorstep for her to stash away for her own use.
Action Suggestion #9: Landlords Can Step Up
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, there has always been nowhere near enough transitional accommodation for domestic violence survivors. Women’s shelters are often crowded and filled to maximum capacity. This problem is only being exacerbated during lockdowns and quarantines during which governments expect social distancing to be adhered to.
If you own a house or apartment other than your primary residence and said property is sitting empty, consider contacting your local domestic violence agency/women’s shelter to offer to make it a temporary safehouse for women and children fleeing domestic violence during the pandemic.
If you are aware that a member of your community/neighbourhood is suffering from domestic violence, inform your community leaders and the victims’ immediate neighbours that you volunteer to provide keys for emergency access for shelter should the victim need to leave home immediately to avoid being killed.
If you or your company owns a hotel (or hotels) which is/are now sitting empty as the flow of tourists business travellers have stopped cold for the time being, consider contacting the local authorities and women’s organisations to offer to open it to shelter domestic violence victims. This type of alternative shelter arrangement is already in force in France and would likely work in other countries.
Action Suggestion #10: Be Prepared For The Worst-Case Scenario
If the violence and abuse escalates in the home of your family member, friend, or neighbour, the victim will need to evacuate as soon as humanly possibly or risk being murdered by her abuser. With women’s shelters, domestic violence agencies, government on every level, and emergency services stretched to the maximum during this pandemic, professional or official help may not come in time.
Be prepared for that scenario:
- Get connected in advance to professional help: The moment you know that your neighbour/friend/family member is suffering from domestic violence, put the local women’s shelter AND local emergency numbers (like 911 or 999) on speed dial on your phone. The moment you have it, call the shelter’s hotline to make sure it’s working. When you get through, let them know that domestic violence has been happening to your neighbour/friend/family member and ask them for what the protocol is for evacuating the victim if and when she needs to leave immediately. The moment you see or hear the violence escalating, call the shelter for help and directions regarding evacuation of the victim. Follow their instructions.
- Get your network/neighbourhood/community alerted and organised: Make sure that everyone (or at least the community leader/coordinator) is informed about the situation and that there may be a need for help from the network for rescue/evacuation purposes. Work out an emergency “worst-case scenario” rescue plan if possible.
- If suggestion #9 is not feasible (i.e. there is no empty property for temporary shelter) and you have a spare room: have it ready at all times so you can accommodate the victim overnight in an emergency, in case no help is forthcoming from the authorities or shelters are unable to send someone immediately in the worst-case scenario. Inform the rest of your household ahead of time that an emergency evacuation of your family member/friend/neighbour could happen in the days and weeks ahead. Make sure that in a rescue scenario, they know to remain in their rooms until the victim has been safely picked up by the women’s shelter.
We strongly recommend leaving the evacuation to the professionals for the safety of all concerned.
HOWEVER: if it really is the worst-case, last-ditch scenario:
- That you fear for the victim’s life and no in-person rescue by professionals is forthcoming within the next 15-20 minutes even though you’ve called all emergency numbers
- That you need to break social distancing/quarantine/isolation rules to evacuate the victim or she will be killed:
- Stay on the line: Call/alert the domestic violence hotline or area emergency services and, if they are unable to spare someone to evacuate the victim, ask them to stay on the line/chat with you to provide instructions and to ensure your call/chat conversation is recorded so the attack and rescue is date and time-stamped in case it is needed as evidence either for the future court case against the abuser or to show authorities that your trip is an essential emergency life-saving one.
- Activate your network: If your neighbourhood has a phone tree or active WhatsApp group or Facebook group, activate it immediately for additional help from other neighbours/allies to meet you outside the victim’s home to start the evacuation. DO NOT GO ALONE.
- Protect yourself: Wear your mask and gloves before you head out to evacuate the victim. Have a bucket with disinfectant ready for clothes when you come back in. If possible, get word to the victim that you are on the way so she can get out of the door or window to meet you if she can. Have the victim sit in the backseat with a mask and gloves on. Disinfect your car when the evacuation is completed.
- Bring supplies: Have masks, gloves, and hand sanitisers ready to go for both you and the victim (and her children if she has any). Better yet – have it ready in your car at all times so you won’t be scrambling for them.
- Be ready to make a run for it: Make sure your car (if you have one) has a full tank of petrol/gas and is ready to go, whether it is to send the victim to the women’s shelter or the hospital, to send her to the pre-arranged temporary emergency accommodation, or to bring her back to your home for emergency overnight accommodation (if she doesn’t live next door or in the same apartment building as you).
- If you have no other option but to shelter the victim overnight: If you have a guest room already prepared for this situation, inform the rest of your household that the emergency evacuation situation is happening. Make sure that they remain in their rooms until the victim is safely ensconced in the guest room and ideally until the victim has been picked up by the women’s shelter staff the next day. Then disinfect your entire home as best you can.
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