The headline was stark and disturbing: “Domestic Violence deaths up 140% in 2020 so far.”
The news that the city of Phoenix, where I have resided almost 30 years, has seen 24 deaths due to domestic violence – compared with ten this time last year – is frightening, but sadly not the least bit surprising. The coronavirus pandemic has forced many people to stay at home. Imagine now that the person you are confined with is one intent on inflicting bodily harm.
Our current state of lockdown remains a struggle where people are exasperated by the sameness of every day. Add to that the anxiety over lost jobs, rent and mortgage payments, school closures, and a future that remains uncertain. Abusers need someone on whom to take out their frustrations, perhaps in an effort to regain control. In the best of times, these people harm those they are purported to love. These are not the best of times.
Before the pandemic, processes were in place to identify people – primarily women and children – who might be suffering at the hands of a “loved one,” though I use that term loosely. As a teacher of 20 years, one of my responsibilities was to keep watch for children who might be suffering abuse at home. In fact, as an educator, like medical professionals, law enforcement officers, and social workers among others, my failure to report suspected abuse could land me a six-month stay in jail, a fine of $1,000, or both.
With children stuck at home and many people afraid to venture into doctors’ offices, mandated reporters are mostly out of the loop. That is until a 911 call when it’s often too late.
So, what can we do? If you’re being abused, know there is help. My new book, Wild Horses on the Salt, details the recovery of a woman fleeing domestic violence. While researching the protagonist, I learned the proper procedures required to escape. The National Domestic Violence Hotline says you should make a plan before leaving.
- Keep any evidence of physical abuse, such as pictures of injuries.
- Keep a journal of all violent incidences, noting dates, events and threats made, if possible. Keep your journal in a safe place.
- Know where you can go to get help. Tell someone what is happening to you.
- If you are injured, go to a doctor or an emergency room and report what happened to you. Ask that they document your visit.
- Plan with your children and identify a safe place for them, like a room with a lock or a friend’s house where they can go for help. Reassure them that their job is to stay safe, not to protect you.
- Contact your local shelter and find out about laws and other resources available to you before you have to use them during a crisis. WomensLaw.org has state by state legal information.
- Acquire job skills or take courses at a community college.
- Try to set money aside or ask friends or family members to hold money for you.
- Before you leave, also make sure to have important legal papers, like medical records, driver’s license and car registration, insurance cards, emergency phone numbers, and financial information.
In addition, it’s important to understand that just leaving an abuser doesn’t end the problem. Abuse leaves damage inside and out. Depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, guilt, and shame are just some of the conditions survivors face, so seeking mental-health therapy is often a necessary part of healing.
The bottom line is no one has to stay with abuser. If you don’t take a stand now, later you might not be able to walk away. And remember, if your children are watching the abuse, chances are they’ll grow up and repeat the cycle. So, do it for them. Make a plan and then make a call.
Your life may depend on it.
NATIONAL DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HOTLINE: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)