Historically, underserved communities become increasingly vulnerable in times of crisis. The Equity and Community Health COVID Response Team at Mass General has introduced a variety of efforts to help mitigate COVID-19 risks in these communities.
- Resources remain available to help survivors and those living in an environment of domestic violence stay safe. Advocates at Mass General have extended their working hours so that they can be more accessible to those in need during the pandemic
- The summer will likely not offer relief as it’s traditionally a time when community violence increases. Survivors may not feel safe in their homes or in their communities
- If you suspect someone is living in an abusive environment, only try to speak with them in a safe, private setting. Once that has been established, simply ask how they are doing and offer help
Concerns about domestic violence have been amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many survivors are now quarantined at home in tight quarters with abusive partners, shelters are even more limited than usual and friends and family are less likely to share their homes due to coronavirus concerns, says Debra Drumm, MSW LICSW, director of HAVEN (Helping Abuse and Violence End Now). The courts are closed and restraining orders are difficult to obtain and renew, so the pandemic has created a dangerous situation for those living in an abusive environment.
While programs like HAVEN are operating under constraints during COVID-19, resources remain available to help survivors and those living in an environment of domestic violence stay safe. At Massachusetts General Hospital, advocates have extended their working hours so that they can be more accessible to those in need during the pandemic.
"We have a 24-hour pager, and staff that takes turns being on call, so there’s always someone available in the moment when a survivor reaches out for the first time,” says Drumm.
What is HAVEN?
Drumm has spent her 30-year social work career working in hospitals on issues of domestic violence and child maltreatment. Currently, she leads HAVEN, a multilingual program that provides services to support survivors of intimate partner abuse. Services include counseling, safety planning, connection to resources and accompaniment to court and other community agencies. The program serves approximately 600 survivors at their three locations, Boston, Chelsea and Revere, ranging from teens to elderly adults.
Patients join the program by self-identifying or being referred by their primary care physicians or other health care provider. They can also be referred to the program via inpatient services, such as when they visit the emergency department for an injury.
There are limited windows when survivors can safely speak to someone about what is happening at home. At the beginning of the pandemic when HAVEN transitioned to remote operations, Drumm and her team expected to lose contact with many existing clients. However, even with the logistical challenges of being at home with their partners and kids, a surprising number of clients continued to actively carve out space to connect with their advocates.
"Our goal is to help people be safer," says Drumm. "And many of the folks we work with do not leave their relationships—at least, not immediately." Safety planning during the pandemic can include:
- Making plans for what to do if/when things escalate
- Considering when to call the police
- Arranging where to stay in case you need shelter
- Planning to get or renew restraining orders, even if courts are closed
Domestic Violence During COVID-19 Pandemic
Drumm reports that community-based domestic violence hotlines have been quieter during the pandemic, but she has seen an increase in both the frequency and severity of domestic violence cases at Mass General. HAVEN is now receiving triple the normal number of referrals for new patients who need help with abusive relationships.
"Since the end of March we have seen an increase in some of the usual work that we do, but also some acuity in terms of assaults," Drumm explains.
In addition to increasing domestic violence rates, she notes that community violence is also escalating, with more penetrating injuries and homicides than normal. VIAP, the Mass General hospital-based community violence program, has been working through the pandemic to meet the needs of these patients and their families.
Underserved communities such as Massachusetts cities Revere and Chelsea, which experience health disparities in non-pandemic circumstances, are now dealing with even more food and housing insecurity and financial stress.
"Those inequities have been there forever and COVID-19 amplifies it and makes it worse," Drumm says.
Domestic Violence Resources
Police and emergency departments are still open and helping people with non-coronavirus issues. Domestic violence programs can help survivors with finding shelter in a crisis, safety planning, support and connections to resources. If you are a survivor or are concerned about someone else, below are some options for getting help now:
- HAVEN, which can be reached by phone at 617-724-0054 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org
- SafeLink, the Massachusetts statewide hotline, at 1-877-785-2020
- Jane Doe, Inc., which provides a map of sexual and domestic violence services located throughout the state
- Community programs such as your local domestic violence organization
How to Help
If you think someone you know might be dealing with domestic violence, Drumm's advice is to be emotionally supportive and offer to help, while understanding the goal is not to get them to disclose their situation to you or to help them leave if that is not what they want.
Listen, validate their feelings and let them know you are available if they need help, says Drumm. Do not try to talk to them about their safety unless you are able to have a private conversation. Once that has been established, simply ask how they are doing and let them know you are a phone call away.
"We do not tell people what to do," says Drumm. "Let the survivor know they are the expert in their situation and you are there if they need or want help. We do not want them to feel like we are another person in their lives trying to control them. They are already experiencing that at home.”
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