As the world has sought safety and protection from the coronavirus pandemic inside our homes, these safe havens are also at the center of domestic violence.
More concerning, there is every likelihood that we are experiencing a significant reporting lag as domestic violence victims are understandably more tentative about reporting abuse because their options, already limited, are even more daunting during the pandemic.
United Nations Executive Director for UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, describes the intensifying effects of domestic violence on women and children due to the necessary restrictions designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as the “shadow pandemic.”
Emergency shelters everywhere, including here in Colorado, are seeing increases in the number of crisis calls, demands for emergency shelter and lethality cases.
Crossroads Safehouse has been serving northern Colorado victims of domestic violence and interpersonal abuse for 40 years. We provide emergency 24/7 shelter, advocacy and support, legal assistance, rapid rehousing, youth services and outreach programming to intervene and prevent domestic violence.
We are seeing an increase in crisis calls during COVID-19, mirroring global trends. In 2020 alone, our crisis calls grew by 109% between January and August. To date we have seen a jump of 27% over this time last year.
We are also experiencing an increase in the number of lethality cases with those who seek safety within our walls. Women who are threatened or assaulted with a gun or other weapon are 20 times more likely than other women to be murdered by their perpetrators. At Crossroads, we typically see six lethality cases per year. We are averaging this same number of cases per week since the pandemic began.
Sadly, we fully expect the numbers of overall cases to grow as COVID-19 restrictions are eventually loosened. We are preparing for a post-COVID-19 surge in domestic violence reports, and Colorado’s capacity to manage this challenge statewide is unfortunately tenuous.
Despite the challenges, we will rightly be judged on how we navigate post-COVID-19 surges, how we address the deep pain and suffering that is happening now behind closed doors and drawn curtains, and whether we can build a post-COVID-19 world where domestic violence is rare and even nonexistent. Ingenuity and creativity will be essential to our collective healing journeys when the pandemic eventually subsides.
We will be asked how we address a long-time gap in domestic violence programming – confronting the reality that too many victims who stay are forced to make the unspeakable choice between continued abuse and homelessness. Too often individuals and families enter emergency shelters and have nowhere to go afterward, forcing many victims back into the homes of their abusers.
Crossroads rejects this narrative and, through its new Road to Home Rapid Rehousing Program has secured the financial, rental and housing-search assistance support critical to help survivors of domestic violence find and maintain permanent housing, free from the threat of violence and abuse.
We are building a program to ensure that no individuals or families ever have to be homeless to be safe from an abuser. It’s a false choice, and we are creating real alternatives that get adults and children into new homes so they can continue to heal free from the violence that terrorized.
We also need to truly get ahead of the domestic violence problem. For too long our society has assumed domestic violence will happen and we need services in place for when it does happen.
Crossroads has a rich history as an emergency shelter and will maintain that service for all who need such help, but too often we see women and children at the shelter and realize that earlier action may have positively influenced their life trajectory.
Crossroads is looking anew at web-based educational platforms that provide unique opportunities not fully considered prior to the pandemic. We are expanding our Time to Talk program, an impactful peer-facilitated, teen dating violence curriculum offered to the Poudre Valley School District (PSD) in Larimer County.
Students learn to identify the issues related to power and control in healthy relationships and to recognize the red flags and cycles of abuse earlier in dating relationships.
New familiarity with web conferencing technology enables us to consider reaching beyond PSD to other schools and educational environments because domestic violence is hardly an urban problem, and our country has collectively struggled to effectively support and empower rural families.
Domestic violence is rising, and we must use this moment of crisis and an acute sense of urgency to undermine domestic abuse. We have seen how the world imposed by the pandemic enables us to push boundaries and are liberated by the opportunities discovered during COVID-19 that will serve us well in the post-pandemic world.
Nonprofits are being asked hard questions, will be needed as society opens up and will be asked to not simply manage the problem but get to the root cause. We welcome this challenge as we relentlessly push to “work our way out of a job” knowing our country is free of domestic violence.
Pam Jones is the Interim Executive Director for Crossroads Safehouse. Edward D. Breslin (Ned) is the President & CEO of the Tennyson Center for Children and a Board Member at Crossroads Safehouse.
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