Iowans Thrive Blog
Featuring stories, research, and news on Iowa's movement to respond to ACEs
Professionals who protect and support individuals experiencing violence at home have raised concerns that this period of stress and isolation could cause a spike in domestic abuse. Without connections to teachers, pediatricians or other community members who provide support or report abuse, children are especially vulnerable in these situations.
According to Tess Cody, executive director of ACCESS (Assault Care Center Extending Shelter & Support) that provides services in five Iowa counties, calls for support related to domestic violence and child abuse have been on the rise nationally and an increase is anticipated locally as the need for social distancing continues. In today’s pandemic, people might especially be weighing the health risks of seeking help versus managing through their current situations at home.
She offers these ways for the community to respond:
Seek help if you need it.
Call the Iowa Victim Service Call Center at 1-800-770-1650 or text “IOWAHELP” to 20121 to speak with a trained advocate who can help with a violent crime and connect to local services. In an emergency, dial 9-1-1.
Shelters are still open, and many have switched to providing motel rooms instead of placing survivors in a mass shelter to prevent health risks. Agencies are also identifying creative ways to support survivors, such as providing gas cards or bus tickets to get to family members’ homes and checking in by phone or video. Tess says organizations like ACCESS want to partner with survivors to help them feel safe in seeking help.
Support those who may be at risk.
Some people in abusive situations may stay in their current living arrangement, says Tess, but they may have a plan for reducing the violence they experience, such as going to a neighbor’s house or a hotel when the tension starts to escalate. Those plans may have to adjust in today’s environment. As a family member or friend, check in on those who are in potentially violent situations and help brainstorm solutions. If you aren’t sure what to say to a loved one you are worried about, you can also call the Iowa Victim Service Call Center to talk about how to start the conversation.
“Most survivors who call for services ultimately have the answer,” says Tess. “They know what is right for them and their kids, but they need someone to listen to them and affirm they are not crazy and that they know the right path.”
Support organizations that can help.
As the economic situation worsens for families over the next year, Tess expects a rise in violence within homes. Serving an increase in clients who have more difficult situations or having to put clients into hotel rooms instead of mass shelters will require more resources.
“Financial problems are not the cause of domestic abuse, but they are gas on the fire,” she says. “Nonprofits like us can do some of that work of reaching out, but we’re also financially limited.”
Support staff who work with survivors.
Many staff supporting survivors of abuse are doing so from home, where they are isolated from other staff who can provide support from the secondary trauma they may experience. Their stress levels are also increasing with responsibilities like working and caring for kids.
Our mantra for supervisors is to just try to have momentum moving forward,” she says, “but go very gently. Take care of each other and ourselves.”
Advocate for changes.
Tess says advocates can help by asking for funding that allows organizations to creatively problem solve with survivors, such as paying for gas cards or rent assistance, or helping provide fidget spinners and other tools that help youth cope with stress and trauma. Those are often out-of-pocket expenses for organizations. In addition, advocates can help think through solutions for reaching people who are more isolated and may not have access to technology or broadband or may lack skills for using technology.
This time will present significant challenges, but it’s also an opportunity to learn about solutions that work and could be integrated into how organizations serve survivors in the future. Things like being able to quickly disperse client assistance dollars, building relationships with landlords and hotels who can be partners in solutions, offering phone-based or video-based counseling, and creating private groups for survivors to support each other on Facebook are all proving valuable.