(CNN) — While many Americans stay home for their own safety during the pandemic, home can be the most dangerous place for victims of domestic violence. The usual places victims could escape to in the past are not always available now.
“We hear many stories. ‘I would go to my parents’ house, but my parents are older and part of a high-risk group. I can’t go there, ‘”exemplified Katie Ray-Jones, CEO. of the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Some domestic violence shelters across the country they say they are full –After reducing their ability to maintain social distancing– and fighting to help survivors.
Activists with the National Domestic Violence Hotline noticed another disturbing trend. Those calling and texting the hotline reported an increase in the frequency and severity of abuse. It’s the same trend that occurred during the last economic recession, Jones said.
“We would hear women and men say, ‘Usually my partner pushes me, tonight he strangled me,” Jones said.
“We get quite a few calls from victims saying ‘he put his hands around my throat.’ We could even hear in a woman’s voice the hoarseness of when her partner strangled her, “he added.
Typically 1,800-2,000 people communicate with the hotline each day through calls, text messages, and online. Jones said that while that number dropped somewhat at the start of the pandemic, it rose 9% in the months after.
Jones recommends that survivors make a 12-step “safety plan” in case an abuser escalates their behavior.
Identify your partner’s use and strength level
Assess the risk of physical danger to yourself and others before it occurs.
- Have they thrown things?
- Have they threatened you?
- Are they capable of hurting you or themselves?
- How strong is your partner?
- Do they have access to weapons?
Often times, the situation is more dangerous than you think. Jones said that many victims of domestic violence underestimate how far their partner could go.
“Often times a victim calls and says, ‘I’m not sure if I should call. He never really hit me yet, ‘”Jones said.
Meanwhile, the survivor says his partner has made suicide and homicide threats that should be taken very seriously.
Identify safe areas in your home
If you have nowhere to go, security planning is critical. Look for exit paths that are far from any weapons. If arguments do break out, “stay away from places where you could be attacked with things that are not traditionally used as weapons,” Jones said.
- Stay out of the kitchen: knives and pots of boiling water can be used to harm you.
- Stay out of the bathroom: razors and toilets can be used to restrain you and towels to strangle you.
- Stay out of rooms where your partner has a firearm.
Have an accessible phone at all times and know the numbers where to ask for help
- Be clear about where the closest public telephone is located.
- Consider buying a cheap flip phone from a pharmacy with prepaid minutes.
- Keep the numbers of friends and family saved on your cell phone, as well as the number of local shelter and the hotline number: 800-799-SAFE (7233).
“We hear abusive partners pick up the phone and monitor phone activity if you’re trying to find opportunities to leave or seek help,” Jones said.
In that case, you can buy a phone at a pharmacy with prepaid minutes that your partner doesn’t know about.
Let your trusted friends and neighbors know the situation
Develop a plan and a visual cue for your neighbors for when you may need their help. Give them clear instructions ahead of time about who you want them to or not contact when you need their help.
“You may not want the police to be called,” Jones said. The decision should be in the hands of the victim.
“We get calls from survivors saying ‘I called the police, but because of COVID they are not making misdemeanor arrests,’ which creates a complicated safety issue for survivors,” Jones said.
As a friend or neighbor, you can say, “How can I help you? What do you need?”
Talk to other people who live in the house about getting help
Establish a mutual signal for when a child or roommate should seek help or leave the house. Instruct them not to get involved in violence between you and your partner. “Injuries to children often occur in the midst of domestic violence,” Jones said. “They get caught in the crossfire,” he explained.
Create compelling reasons to leave home
- Go to the supermarket.
- Spend time with friends.
- Having to stay at work longer.
- Go out to finish errands.
- Whatever may make sense to your partner.
Practice getting out safely, if possible
Make your security plan almost automatic. “If violence breaks out, your brain is in crisis mode and you may not remember the plan,” Jones said.
Play the plan repeatedly in your head and go over all the steps. That could include taking out older family members who may be living with you safely or bringing a baby to the car with the car seat.
Plan what to do if your partner finds out about the plan
If your partner finds out about your plan, that loss of control the abuser feels could be dangerous, Jones said. Make up some other reason why you made a plan.
Lock or hide any weapon, whether it belongs to you or your partner
You must make the weapons as inaccessible as possible. A barrier that delays the abuser from accessing a weapon to use against you could save you valuable time.
Jones recommends that you do not draw weapons to defend yourself because they can end up being used against the victim. In addition, it will make the police responding to the assault have to find out who the victim is and who the perpetrator is.
Be aware of how clothing or jewelry can be used to physically harm you
- Avoid wearing scarves.
- Avoid wearing jewelry.
Park the car in reverse and keep it loaded with fuel
If possible, unlock the driver’s door for quick access to the vehicle.
If violence is unavoidable, make yourself as small as physically possible.
This is a sad reality. If you cannot escape safely, “move to a corner and curl up in a ball with your face protected and your arms around each side of your head, fingers interlocked,” according to the list of recommendations from the National Emergency Line. Domestic Violence.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Jones said. «You want to protect your head, your brain, your internal organs. You’re preparing your body for kicks and punches, ”he explained.
How to get help in other countries: If you or someone you know is being affected by domestic violence, UN Women provides a worldwide directory listing. You can also find a list of national agencies at The Pixel Project.
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