Domestic and Sexual Violence Resources Available During COVID-19
OKEMOS, MI - April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and though we are going through unprecedented times with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is still important for anyone experiencing domestic or sexual violence to have resources available to them. This time may prove to be more difficult for individuals experiencing abuse, since many people are required to be quarantined in their homes all day, every day.
One way to get help is by calling Michigan’s Sexual Assault Hotline at 1.855.VOICES4, or 1.855.864.2374. This hotline operates 24/7 and is free to use. Confidential and anonymous support will be given to anyone who calls. An important thing to know is that if anyone is suffering from domestic abuse, they can also call the hotline and will be directed to the appropriate resources. If calling the hotline doesn’t work for you, you can also text 1.866.238.1454. Again, this method is a safe and confidential way to receive help for anyone who needs it. The National Domestic Abuse Hotline can also be reached at 1.800.799.7233.
Another local resource for individuals experiencing abuse is the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence (MCEDSV). They provide resources to anyone who has experienced domestic or sexual violence across the state of Michigan. Some of these resources include legal representation and program placement for anyone whose lives have been affected by abuse. Another important mission for them is their prevention efforts. They work with their member agencies, communities, and state and local partners in order to change societal norms, practices, and behaviors that lead to abuse.
HOMTV had the opportunity to speak with Eric Stiles, the Associate Director of MCEDSV, to learn about how important it is to ensure that resources are available to individuals during the COVID-19 crisis. Those who experience abuse may face challenges when coming forward, such as economic or cultural barriers. Another challenge they may face is not being believed. With the COVID-19 pandemic, these challenges are heightened.
“COVID-19 adds that extra layer by isolating survivors and by keeping them in a state of crisis and losing the resources to live their daily life. If you depend on the bus to get back and forth to work, and you are laid off and now you are at home in isolation, those things compound and really affect your ability for healing,” says Stiles. “So we’re also being responsive in Sexual Assault Awareness Month in that everything we are creating and doing is to support survivors.”
Sheltering in place plays an important role in slowing the spread of COVID-19, however, it also leaves little room for those affected by domestic or sexual violence to be away from their abusers, whether it be a college student returning home due to school closures, children not having after-school programs as a means of escape, or an adult suffering abuse at the hands of their partner. To add onto the stress of a pandemic, unemployment rates have soared during this time, meaning economic hardship for those unable to work, which may impact the amount of abuse someone faces through this crisis.
“As far as sexual violence, we are seeing an increase in survivors coming forward because they may sheltering in place with their abuser,” says Eric. But it’s not just those facing sexual abuse who are coming forward, “What we know about domestic violence is that we are also seeing an increase in phone calls on our hotline in regards to sheltering in place and their abuser being there 24 hours a day.”
During the COVID-19 crisis, these outlets are very important, “Often, it’s maybe one of their few and only resources available with the centers and our hotlines because their family connections or friends that they may normally want to turn to, and wish to turn to, are also sheltering in place, also have limited resources, and also are going through this crisis,” says Eric. “It cannot be stated enough that we’re all living through a pandemic, and by living through something that affects every culture, every community like this, you really get isolation that just compounds and compounds on itself, so our resources are very valuable to survivors during this time period.”
But the biggest takeaway Eric wants the public to get from this: always believe survivors.
Anyone experiencing domestic or sexual violence can contact the Michigan Sexual Assault Hotline, the National Domestic Abuse Hotline, or the MCEDSV Hotline Chat available on their website. All these resources are listed below, as well as Eric's full interview.