Health, economic and natural crises can add to the pressures facing survivors of domestic violence. With the “Stay Home” orders for Harris, Montgomery and other surrounding counties, people who are surviving violence in their relationships and families are experiencing even greater isolation and danger.
“Over the last several days, AVDA (Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse) has had an uptick in calls from domestic abuse survivors,” stated AVDA CEO Maisha Colter. “The main message that we want to convey to family violence victims is that you are not alone. One in four women experience abuse in their lifetime.” AVDA is based in Houston.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has created an environment in which survivors who have not separated from their abusers are now at even greater risk; however, area domestic violence service providers are still providing services,” continued Colter. “AVDA’s free legal representation is still available in Austin, Grimes, Fort Bend, Harris, Waller and Washington counties.”
On March 30, the Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon announced an approximately 35% increase in domestic violence cases filed in March 2020 as were filed in the same time period in 2019. This rise, he said, may be due to increased isolation, stress, and more access to victims by perpetrators caused by the COVID-19 virus fallout.
Sometimes, when a mandate to remain inside comes from the local and federal government, society witnesses a rise of physical abuse since victims have nowhere to go to escape their abuser. Therefore, local domestic abuse organization FamilyTime has a 24/7 hotline available with professionals trained in handling these situations. Victims or those aware of an abusive situation are encouraged to call 281-446-2615.
Interim Executive Director of FamilyTime Crisis and Counseling Center Lori Carroll stated, “Our calls to the hotline have been steady. We anticipate the longer we are required to stay home and practice social distancing, the greater the need for our services. It is not safe for victims of domestic violence to be home with their abusers, particularly during a time when there is additional stress. The health and safety for themselves and their children are at risk.”
“I am monitoring closely the number of calls and it seems to go in waves. We will continue to monitor closely and answer our 24/7 hotline calls for victims. I feel we will see an overall increase in the number of calls we receive due to social isolation and social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Victims are particularly vulnerable at this time as their regular routines and lives have been disrupted. Many may also be confined at home with their abuser. Victims may have added stress, possible job loss, children at home, depression. FamilyTime advocates and staff want to make sure we are available for our client’s needs. Our counselors are using telehealth programs to provide counseling to many clients during this time. Our caseworker/legal advocates are available to provide assistance and resources over the phone. Our shelter staff is working very hard to make sure all the needs of our clients are being met. Clients and staff are taking every precaution following all guidelines,” Carroll said.
FamilyTime depends, in large part, on donations from the community to sustain its counseling programs as well as to operate The Door, a shelter for battered women and their children.
“We have been fortunate to have our wonderful community offer donations of food and supplies. Since we do not know how long this pandemic will last, we need to keep our supplies well stocked. Currently we are in need of cleaning supplies, such as Lysol spray, hand sanitizers and Clorox wipes,” added Carroll.
In 2019 alone, FamilyTime provided 72 educational presentations and training for the community. Education and awareness is key to ending the prevalence of domestic violence.
Board of Directors President Susan Meinholz of FamilyTime said, “FamilyTime is a pillar within the community, even in this time of national need. However, The ‘Mothers Are Jewels’ fundraising luncheon, originally scheduled for April 23, is postponed.”
If you are still living with your abuser:
1. Stay as safe as you can. When an argument breaks out, know the safest place in the house; stay away from spaces like the kitchen, bathroom and garage where objects that can be weaponized are kept.
2. Prepare for a situation where an abuser might hide essential supplies and/or prohibit you from leaving the home to access essential supplies.
3. Have a safety plan and know where your keys and important papers are. If it is safe to do so, call FamilyTime at 281-446-2615 or AVDA at 713-224-9911 (Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.) or visit online at avda.org for safety planning. If it is not safe to use your phone or computer, ask a friend or family member to do so and share the information with you in a phone conversation, if safe.
4. For help 24/7, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or text LOVEIS to 22522.
5. If you can make plans to leave your abuser safely for a shelter or to stay with a friend or family member, do so. Remember: never tell the perpetrator that you plan to leave.
6. In an emergency, call 911.
If you recently left your abuser:
1. Remember the most dangerous time for a survivor of domestic violence is at the time of or right after leaving the perpetrator.
2. In the current climate, it might be difficult to access the protective order process. AVDA is doing its best to help survivors obtain the protective orders they need. If you need a protective order, call AVDA at 713-224-9911 if in Harris County. AVDA’s victim advocates, paralegals and attorneys have replaced face-to-face meetings with phone calls and the Zoom conferencing application. The courts are still open, and in certain cases, AVDA’s attorneys are accompanying clients for hearings at the courthouse.
3. AVDA also provides free counseling for victims of domestic abuse and their children.
4. For free legal representation for divorce, child custody, child support and adoption in the case of parent fatality: call 713-224-9911 in Harris County.