Coronavirus Brings An Increase In Domestic Violence: Tips For Those Who Need Help

As part of our “Love Essentially” series, Jackie Pilossoph helps us navigate the complex world of relationships. Have a question that you would like her to answer ? Contact her here, and it may be featured in an upcoming article!

For the past two months, I have heard people describe quarantining as: boring, isolating, depressing, stressful, monotonous, and even maddening. The Illinois stay-at-home order that became effective March 21 isn’t easy for anyone.

But there’s a certain person for whom my heart breaks. This person feels terrified, exhausted, and hopeless all day, every day. Constantly walking on eggshells and waiting for the next explosion, this person is living in their own fear and uncertainty amidst the world’s. I’m talking about a domestic violence victim. Can you imagine being quarantined with an abusive spouse?

Amanda Pyron, MSW is the Executive Director of “The Network: Advocating Against Domestic Violence,” a Chicago-based organization that serves victims of domestic violence and operates the Illinois Domestic Violence hotline. Pyron said the hotline has seen a huge increase in calls and texts during the past several weeks, including a one-day record high last week of 125 calls and a 2000% increase in text messages to the hotline.

“We are expecting sustained high call volumes, mostly from those trying to determine how to stay safe in their current environment,” said Pyron. “COVID has made it even more difficult for victims to leave because like everyone else, they’re worried about getting the virus if they go to a hotel or a shelter.”

Pyron said many domestic violence victims seek shelter at a relative’s home or a friend’s home, but because of the pandemic that may no longer be an option. She said a victim might also purposely choose to work different shifts to get out of the house and away from the abuser, but in the current environment might have lost their job.

Carol Ruderman is the Executive Director of SHALVA, a Chicago organization that offers counseling, supportive services and community education to domestic violence victims. Ruderman calls the current domestic climate “ripe for abuse.”

“It’s not justifiable or acceptable, but the abuser might act out more frequently, more intensively because of the added anxiety and stress of COVID-19 and the quarantine,” she said. “Because everyone is at home all the time, people can’t use the phone to call us because there’s no privacy.”

Inquiry calls about divorce in relation to domestic violence have also increased dramatically, according to Daniel Stefani, a Chicago- and Bannockburn-based family law attorney.

“We’re getting one or two calls in a two-week period from victims who are looking to us for options,” said Stefani, who has been practicing for 26 years. “The pandemic isn’t causing abuse, but it can make an already abusive person more abusive and the abuse more frequent. And because it is more frequent, more spouses are calling us for help.”

So, in this current pandemic environment, what are the options for a domestic violence victim? It depends on the situation.

“If you feel you are in a dangerous or in a life-threatening situation, call 9-1-1 or call or text the domestic violence hotline. There’s no charge and it’s confidential,” said Ruderman. “You can also confide in a trusted friend or relative and have a code word to let them know you need help.”

“You can call the hotline if you are in crisis and need to leave immediately, but you can also call the hotline anytime, not just for emergencies,” said Pyron. “We provide resources and answers to questions.”

The Network recently received funding from the State of Illinois for crisis housing in hotels or emergency apartments. Also, through the city of Chicago, they are able to provide free Uber and Lyft rides for emergency transportation.

SHALVA offers free resource that include a crisis line, counseling over the phone, and legal services.

If you feel a need to be protected by the law, call a family law attorney and discuss your options. Filings can include: exclusive possession of the home, prohibition of harassment, intimidation or interference of physical liberty, or order of protection. All are covered under the domestic violence act of Illinois.

Stefani said he recently got a call from a victim whose husband threw her on the ground after an argument.

“We put together an affidavit and filed it electronically. The court granted her an order of protection on a temporary basis,” he said. “It’s just a piece of paper but it’s powerful because once you have it, all you do is call the police, and if the order is being violated the abuser goes to jail. If you don’t have the piece of paper, the police will come to your house and may or may not do anything. In many cases, without the order, the alleged abuser isn’t arrested.”

Stefani recommends calling the police if you are frightened.

“Even if the police come and don’t think much of it, you now have an incident report,” he said.

“If you think you are in an abusive relationship, you need to know it’s not your fault and that no one deserves to be in an abusive relationship,” said Ruderman. “Know that people will believe you, that you are not alone, and that there is help out there that is free and confidential.”

How to Help:

In addition to the resources shared in the article above, consider supporting one of the impactful local organizations featured on our Better List that provide support to victims of abuse and domestic violence.

More from Better:

Jackie Pilossoph is a former television journalist and newspaper features reporter. The author of four novels and the writer of her weekly relationship column, Love Essentially, Pilossoph is also the creator of the divorce support website, Divorced Girl Smiling. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism and lives in Chicago with her two teenagers.

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