This article was originally published in Peace Over Violence's blog "Voices from the Movement" on April 7, 2020.
It is heartbreaking witnessing vulnerable people in our communities trapped at home with those who harm them due to the shelter-in-place mandates all across the globe. Unfortunately, experience reminds us that there is a concerning reality typical of these uncertain times: times of crisis are positively related to gender-based violence. Research conducted after the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Farm Crisis of the 1980s, and the latest economic recession of 2008 found that financial crises significantly affect intimate relationships and parenting quality. Intimate partner abuse and a decline in parenting quality are harmful effects of a macroeconomic downturn in families.
As a trauma therapist, I know that shelter-in-place mandates are not suitable for adults and children experiencing abuse at home. Due to the uncertainty of this time and the ensuing anxiety, those who harm may experience increasing feelings of powerlessness and helplessness that usually lead to behaviors that worsen the already concerning domestic violence and child abuse cases. The problem is that we lack a “how-to” manual to deal with the current situation. The safety of our community, however, demands us to do our best.
How can we help people whose homes aren’t safe places because of domestic violence and other forms of gender-based violence present?
Reach out to loved ones, friends, and neighbors
One of the critical signs of abuse is the isolation of vulnerable individuals from their love and support networks. We do not know what someone’s reality is. Reaching out with a simple greeting and an occasional check-in can empower people to tell us about their situation and perhaps, even dissuade the person harming them from further violence as we keep checking in.
Listen, just listen
Most people experiencing abuse need an empathic ear that allows them to vent their emotions and feelings without judgment. We are not to offer advice, only to listen, empathize, and build trust.
Validate the person’s feelings, emotions, and beliefs even when they do not make sense
The best way to build trust with someone experiencing violence in their home is by being present with them through active listening and compassionate validation while communicating empathy (sometimes empathy takes an emotional toll on us as we connect to their anguish and suffering). Active listening requires us to be disciplined enough to fully focus on what the person is saying rather than elaborating what we think is the solution to their situation. People experiencing domestic violence require compassionate validation. Even when their decisions, circumstances, or personal beliefs may not make sense to us.
Assist them in making a safety plan
Making a safety plan is incredibly useful, and it does not need to be complicated or lengthy. The simplest way of working on a safety plan with a person experiencing abuse at home is by reminding them that they:
Deserve to be treated with respect and love
Should involve their children in most of their home activities
Reach out to relatives and trusted friends (when possible)
Be prepared to leave at any moment (money, documents, car keys, children’s backpacks filled with some clothes and snacks)
Call for help if they feel that they or their children are in physical danger.
It is important to be aware that some communities and individuals may not welcome calling the police for various historical and personal reasons. Some of those reasons may include fear of increased violence from significant others, fear of deportation, fear of stigma and shame, among many others. There even exists the expectation to protect one’s community from further interaction with law enforcement. Many communities of color have tension-filled relationships with police, given the numerous accounts of police brutality, harassment, and high incarceration rates of Black and Hispanic individuals. Calling 911 should be a choice made by the individual in danger as they are the expert of their life. There exist some community alternatives to law enforcement intervention in situations of gender-based violence.
For further assistance on safety planning:
Peace Over Violence’s 24/7 emergency hotlines: 213-626-3393; 310-392-8381; 626-793-3385
The National Domestic Violence Hotline (available 24/7): 1-800-799-7233; 1-800-787-3224 (TTY); live chat at: thehotline.org
RAINN National Sexual Assault 24/7 hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673); live chat at: rainn.org
Remind them of their strengths and resourcefulness
One benefit of practicing active listening is noticing their power, positive qualities, and strengths (resilience) in the person’s story. Help them to see themselves and their capacity by realizing how much they are doing to survive this difficult time and circumstances. Remind them that their skills will surely help them thrive in life.
Mutual Aid and Collective Care
This time is an opportunity for us to learn new things – including how inadequate some of our systems are. Hopefully, these new learnings will serve us as individuals and communities when we get to the next “new normal.” This time is also an opportunity to find new ways to expand our capacity to connect and support each other. We can help those experiencing violence and abuse in their homes by committing to care for others and our communities.
Mutual aid shows in different ways – for example, a random neighbor showing with a meal when one cannot get out of bed, buying groceries for someone who is financially unable to do so, staying up late with a friend in crisis, helping someone move, giving rides to the doctor, or walking someone’s dogs when they cannot do it themself. It can also look like teaching or sharing skills and strategies for coping with present circumstances, connecting with others, or job searching. Mutual aid can also be intervening in abusive situations and protecting someone who is experiencing gender-based violence, and advocating to change the structural causes of oppression so that everyone can be safe.
This is the time when allies and upstanders need to offer their support and speak up against the ongoing abuse. People experiencing violence need our solidarity via actions and support. We encourage our allies and community members to learn more about upstander interventions (also referred to as bystander interventions) and pod mapping as ways to increase solidarity and community care: