As the COVID-19 shutdown has continued, we must look at the toll not only on lives lost but on lives changed forever. Reports from China, Spain, France and other countries all support the conclusion that with stay at home orders come an increase of abuse in the home. According to the UN, since the pandemic started, many countries have seen the number of calls to abuse helplines doubled and tripled. Search engines such as Google are seeing the largest number of searches for domestic violence help in the past five years. That’s tragic. We must realize it is happening right here as well. The unfortunate unintended consequence of the stay at home order is that it increases spousal and child abuse. Coincidentally, April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, so let’s take a moment to be aware that this is an especially stressful time. In talking through these issues with our local CASA advocates, they haven’t seen a local rise in reported abuse of children per se, but they also said this isn’t necessarily a good thing. CASA has court-appointed advocates who work with kids who have already been shown in court to be at risk of abuse. Often the reporters are not the kids themselves, but other caretakers like teachers. With kids not in school, abuse in the home is much more likely to go unnoticed. Those that work for CASA and other organizations that help abused victims are finding they must adapt to the stay at home situation, the closures and the shutdown of face-to-face contact. CASA has worked to train volunteers to attempt to touch base with their at-risk kids at least once a week. These organizations, like our own CASA and Alliance Against Family Violence, will be struggling more this year than most. They will inevitably have more cases and, like other nonprofits, their fundraising events will be heavily impacted. Keep them in your thoughts. Think about supporting them directly. Most importantly, be aware these organizations are here to help our neighbors in need. The number for the statewide reporting of child abuse is 1-800-922-5330. The national Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-7233. I’d ask that we all keep an eye out for situations. Offer a kind word. We must help those who are having a hard time helping themselves out of abusive situations and keep ourselves calm in the face of increasing frustration. Abuse takes many forms. In addition to physical violence, which is not always present, common abuse includes isolation from friends, isolation from family and employment, constant surveillance on many levels, strict rules for behavior and limiting access to basics such as food, clothing and sanitary facilities. With the pandemic forcing abused together with abuser 24-7, isolation in the home gives even more power to the abuser. I’d also call on local government and my colleagues in the Legislature to keep this situation in mind when they look at how to allocate our resources. While economic stimulus is important for saving lives, it is also essential to support organizations and processes to give victims of abuse a way out and a way up.
By Rep. Jeff Pittman represents the 41st District.