15Jul

Getting Out during a Pandemic

Domestic violence can be a touchy subject, however, given the recent pandemic and increase in domestic violence cases, it definitely warrants a spotlight. For starters, I would just like to advise that if you are in a domestic violence situation currently at home, please be cautious when reading this blog and clear your viewing history. I’ll provide tips and resources on how to possibly get out of an abusive environment at the end.

Domestic violence involves any type of abuse used by one individual in a relationship to control another. According to the Florida legal definition of domestic violence, it does not have to include dating or being in a romantic relationship but rather can be between spouses, former spouses, individuals related by blood or marriage, individuals living together presently or in the past, and individuals who have a child together regardless of whether they have been married or not or whether they have lived together or not. It can include physical abuse (assault, hitting, pushing, punching), sexual abuse (rape, unwanted or forced sexual activity), and emotional abuse (using fear as a control tactic, intimidation, manipulation, threats) as well as stalking. It can also occur across all ages, gender identities, sexual orientations, races, religions, and socio-economic groups, even though some groups may be at a greater risk than others according to statistics. Some of these risk factors include lack of education, poverty, low self-worth, substance abuse, and witnessing family violence in childhood. Statistics show that women account for a greater percentage (85%) of domestic violence victims than men (15%), however, men are still victims and may be more reluctant to report abuse and seek help due to gender stereotypes and societal norms pressuring them to keep quiet. If you are interested in learning about additional statistics, you can visit www.endabuse.org.

The effects of domestic violence can be devastating which makes it all the harder for individuals to leave such relationships. People begin to lose themselves and their identity which turns into lack of self-confidence, self-worth, and self-esteem. They may lose their ability to trust others and blame themselves for their partner’s actions, words, or behaviors…” if only I did this or I should have done that.” Some may turn to drugs or alcohol to numb the pain, forget, or diminish the experience. A lot of individuals experience depression, anxiety, isolation, aggression, hopelessness, helplessness, and suicidal ideation. However, it is not YOUR fault. These are all effects of what is happening TO you versus WHO YOU ARE. I know this is something that individuals experiencing abuse hear all the time and it doesn’t necessarily make them believe it. However, the first step in overcoming the effects of domestic violence is first getting OUT.

Due to the recent pandemic, I have been reading on statistics of an increase in domestic violence cases due to victims being cut off from resources as they feel stuck at home with their abusers. Home is typically supposed to be a safe place but unfortunately, it’s the exact opposite for victims of domestic violence. On top of stress and fear from unemployment, sickness, and death, these individuals are living in fear every second of every minute of their lives, walking on eggshells anxiously awaiting their next assault. Many may feel like there’s no way to escape now even if they have been working on a safety plan. So, what do you when there’s a pandemic occurring and you are quarantined inside a home where you’re being abused? Well the answer is not easy and not simple, since every individual’s case is different. Abusers may threaten victim’s lives or use financial security to keep victim’s dependent and unable to leave. However, you are not alone and there is help still out there, even during this pandemic. Here are some tips as to how to leave an abusive relationship:

1. Reach out to a hotline via phone, text, or chat message
Of course, if you are ever in immediate danger, please call 911. Otherwise, there are plenty of hotlines that you can take advantage of at this time if you need to talk to an advocate.

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233 (24/7 call or chat)
Safe Horizon: 800-621-HOPE (call or chat)
National Dating Abuse Hotline: 866-331-9474 or text LOVEIS (call or text)

2. Create a safety plan for leaving
Any of the numbers you contact above will help you in creating a safety plan. You may also reach out to a therapist for assistance as well. However, if you decide that leaving your home is the safest option at the moment, ask yourself: how will I get to a safe place? Does my abuser know the places or people I’d turn to for safety? What are my options for transportation during COVID-19? If the safest option is to stay where you are at the moment, you can find safety measures to implement at home until you are ready to leave. Safety planning is simply a personalized plan to help you remain safe while in a relationship, planning to leave, or after you leave and involves how to cope with emotions, telling friends/family about the abuse, taking legal action, utilizing resources, etc.

3. Pack a bag
Whether you are getting ready to leave or waiting until it is a good time, it is a good idea to have an emergency bag ready with important items like forms of identification, medications and any valuables you may have. It is also important to hide this bag in a place where your abuser will never find it.

4. Research potential shelters near you
Most shelters are completely anonymous and don’t offer locations that you can find anywhere online, however, if you call these places, they will help you get set up with a safe place to stay if you’re afraid that your abuser will know who you would potentially stay with. Shelters will typically have clothing, toiletries and food to provide you and are still operating during the pandemic while implanting safety and health precautions against the COVID-19.

5. Devise a new way of staying in touch with loved ones
You can use various different apps to keep communication lines open with friends and family and come up with code words to ensure your safety when going out to public places like the grocery store. You may try using public phones or getting a new burner phone all together.

6. Figure out the safest place for you at home
Even though you may not feel safe in your home at all, try and find a spot where you may be able to make a phone call where your abuser cannot hear. Make sure this place has no forms of weapons and there is an escape outlet like a door or window in case you need to get out immediately.

7. If applicable, update your children on your safety plans
If you have children, your safety plan should include them as much as possible. In domestic violence cases, kids are the victims as well. Depending on their age, you can explain your safety plan and give them guidance as to how to keep themselves safe as well. Make sure they know how to dial 911 in case of emergencies.

8. Remember that help is still out there!
Organizations, shelters, hotlines are still operating given the current circumstances and help is still out there. Please don’t hesitate to reach out. My next blog will focus on how to recognize that abuse is not your fault and the steps to take after you’ve gotten out of the relationship. Here are additional resources on domestic violence as well (https://ncadv.org/resources)

If you are in a domestic violence situation at home or an abusive relationship, we are here to help. We can assist you in creating a safety plan and ultimately finding your voice, sense of peace, and identity again. You CAN gain back control over YOUR life. Please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Barbara Vehabovic