By: Tammy Showalter, Contributing writer/reporter
Safe-at-home is not always the case for many of our most vulnerable neighbors.
While the Southern Maryland Stay-at-home order has been lifted in some local counties, the fear that is inflicted at the hands of an aggressive, controlling abuser is still very real for many of our neighbors in the region and vulnerable women, children and those that live in abusive households may not have the access and freedom to vacate a home at will.
Many families are struggling with the stress of a job loss, children not graduating and what that looks like for the future, overall general health concerns and the fear of the unknown all together.
Many are asking, ‘what will our lives look like going forward and how will we navigate the re-opening of our economy. For the families that struggle on a day to day basis with communication break-down, drug, alcohol as well as sexual abuse at times such as these, the pain can seem insurmountable for the victims.
There hasbeen a reported hike in domestic violence and sexual assault calls in our tri-county area and Joan Winship, Chair of Calvert County’s Commission for women; Jennifer Moreland, the Director of the Calvert County Department of Community Resources and Jennifer Edwards, the Director for the Crisis Intervention Center and Safe Harbor, domestic violence shelter in Calvert County all sat down for an in-depth discussion on the topic and provided insight into resources that are available for those in an abusive situation.
“The crisis intervention center has a 24-hour confidential hotline for individuals who are struggling with domestic violence, sexual assault and suicidality or trauma in any form,” Edwards said. “Initially,in early March when the pandemic came across everyone’s mind, our hotline calls went down for a little while and most of that was attributed to the fact that abusers were furloughed, teleworking or had lost their jobs.”
Edwards stated that calls have picked back up dramatically.
“People are calling and asking for help with a safety plan in this time of Covid-19 when victims can’t really flee from their abusers right now,” she stated. “Prior to the pandemic, the safety plan in place was for them to prepare to leave the abusive situation; leave the home, come into the shelter, go to family; something along those lines.”
Modified safety plans are now called safest at home plans. Edwards said, “We’re discussing with people now that when an argument ensues, where is the safest place to have that argument? You don’t want to argue in the kitchen where there are knives and all sorts of equipment. You don’t want to argue in a confided space such as a bathroom, if you can get out into a more open area.”
Edwards recommends a code word be spoken when tension rises.
“We talk about if the code word is spoken, that the children will go to their room or yell for the neighbor. We’ve had to develop new create ways to keep the victims that are reaching out the safest that we possibly can.”
Edwards stated that she is getting some positive feedback from their essential counselors, but Safe Harbor isn’t permitted to be at full capacity during the pandemic but she, along with other rape crisis centers are expecting a 50 percent or more increase in requests for shelter, intervention and long-term therapy.
For domestic violence emergencies, citizens are encouraged to call 911 as always. For non-emergency assistance, call Calvert County’s helpline at 410-535-1121 or 301-855-1075. The Maryland Hotline is 1-800-MD-HELPS. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE.
The text-only helpline for Calvert County is 443-771-7037.
Winship said their mission is to identify issues and to educate the public about them.
“Violence in the home in general is a big issue and it’s two-fold. We want to make sure people are aware that the virus in fact has created situations where it makes it right in some circumstances for their to be violence in the home that would not be detected perhaps, or people are even more limited to get help.”
The Adult Protective Services are open and essential as is Legal Aid and are still assisting customers Moreland stated.
Legal Aid of Maryland is not currently accepting walk-in appointments, but is available by phone, Monday -Thursday, 9:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. at 1-800-666-8330.
“Our case managers at the office on aging have been reaching out to our seniors, trying to be proactive,” Moreland said, “They are more at risk and are socially more isolated and we’re concerned that they will be neglected if they don’t have a good support system in place. There is some connection through Meals on Wheels but really it’s been over the phone that we’ve been able to have contact with our clients to see how they’re doing.”
With the increase in isolation, drug and alcohol usage has increased as well. Many times an abuser will take away a cell phone or tablet or the only means of communication that a victim has. The Calvert County Department of Social Services and Child Protective Services as well as Adult Protective Services are still going out and conducting in-home investigations when knowledge of a case is reported.
In this new-norm, victims of abuse are having to be more creative in where and how they report abuse, such as at the pharmacy or drug store and the essential places that they frequent. If you are essential staff and are approached with sensitive information such as an abusive situation, it is vital that you report it in the safest manner possible.
“We want people in general to know how much of an issue this is and that there is a broad spread phenomenon that does exist,” Winship said. “It’s not just because of the virus. I work with women’s groups nationally and internationally and it is such that countries around the world as the United Nations Secretary General [Antonio Guterres] himself has said that there is a horrifying global surge in domestic violence right now, and people are calling this a double pandemic.”
The Crisis Intervention Center does work with offenders of abuse to assist with recognizing the abusive tendencies, according to Edwards.
“We help them re-learn coping skills and positive skills for interpersonal relationships,” Edwards said. “All of those services are still going on via tele-health right now. We work with the family for the entire duration that CPS requires.
“It’s all about education on all levels; individual, familial and community, state and country-wide level. It takes everyone to recognize that it’s based out of control and not anger and that abusive individuals can relearn new and healthier ways to deal with the stressers their facing.”
Recently, many of the court-ordered assessments have been directly related to financial pressures after a job loss. The panel all spoke highly of the Calvert County Sheriff’s office and the tremendous support they have received from the staff.
Statistical numbers are rising on a daily basis. To view stats by state, visit the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence at www.NCADV.org.