Experts agree the best way to slow the spread of COVID-19 is to stay home — but for victims of domestic violence, staying home might be as dangerous as facing the virus.
"I think the thing to remember is while it might be safest for most of us to be in our homes right now, home isn't safe for everyone," said Tyler Rieke, executive director of Coalition Against Rape and Domestic Violence.
In fact, social distancing and isolation can become tools for abusers to wield against their victims, Rieke explained Tuesday.
"It's a well-known tactic of domestic violence perpetrators to isolate individuals from family, friends and work," she said. "I'm not saying this virus is (itself) an abuser, but it is forcing us into homes and into isolation. That's potentially unsafe for individuals we serve."
CARDV serves victims of sexual assault and domestic violence in Callaway County through counseling, advocacy and providing temporary emergency housing. The disruption caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic has already hit CARDV: They've had to suspend child care and weekly support groups and cease scheduling new counseling appointments.
"We're still providing services in a socially distanced capacity. Our help line is still available, and our advocates are still working 24/7," Rieke said. "We are relying more heavily on technology and telehealth-type options. Face-to-face advocacy will always be the preference, but in light of everything, we're relying on technology."
As of Tuesday, CARDV was still able to provide emergency shelter for victims.
"We are reliant on hotels remaining open, however," Rieke said. "Our ability to (provide shelter) will last as long as we have access to hotel placement."
If hotels close, CARDV will work to refer clients to other area domestic violence shelters.
At the moment, CARDV is not accepting or requesting donations of items — but donated funds are always welcome, Rieke said. (Visit callawaycardv.org/donate to chip in.)
Those funds are especially vital right now. Domestic and intimate-partner violence are already devastatingly common: According to the National Coalition against Domestic Violence, one in four women and one in nine men have experienced severe intimate partner violence, sexual violence and/or stalking. Rieke said she expects to see a spike in people needing help as the COVID-19 crisis continues to develop.
The reasons are twofold. First, as mentioned above, abusers may use social distancing recommendations or shelter-in-place orders as an excuse to cut off victims from family members, friends and other sources of help.
Second, COVID-19 currently threatens the financial security of many people.
"I think we're going to see some pretty significant economic impacts," Rieke said. "It costs a lot of money to leave an abuser and start over. If an individual (can't go to work or) loses their job and income, that's going to affect their ability to leave in the future."
Rieke urged people to keep an eye on their friends, neighbors and family members as the COVID-19 situation develops. Continue to check in over the phone, through texting or video chat, especially with those who you know to be at risk.
"Be a supportive person; listen without judgment," she said. "A lot of times people in a domestic violence situation aren't asking you to solve all of their problems or answer all their questions but to just listen."
She listed a number of things to watch out for and ask about during check-ins:
Signs partner may be monitoring phone calls or text messages or preventing someone from reaching out to family via phone or text
Seeming unusually fearful, apprehensive or otherwise nervous
Changes in sleep habits
Exhibiting excessive privacy concerning their personal life or the person with whom they're in a relationship
Further isolating themselves by cutting off contacts with friends and family members
Exhibiting other signs of depression or anxiety — especially if the behavior is new
"If you know a friend or loved one is living in a home that isn't necessarily safe, check in on them, provide our help line number and refer them to our website," Rieke said.
CARDV's 24/7 Help Line can be reached at 573-642-4422. Visit CARDV online at callawaycardv.org.