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Domestic abuse can get worse in isolation

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BRATTLEBORO — For most of us, home in these trying times is a place where we find comfort, peace and safety.

But for many of our neighbors, home may not be a safe place, especially if they're sharing it with a batterer.

"Staying home isn't much of a refuge if you're there with someone who uses power and control tactics like violence, threats, and manipulation on you 24 hours a day," said Shari, an advocate with the Women's Freedom Center. "This pandemic could prolong a situation because survivors don't have the ready access to even make a safe phone call for help."

"While most survivors already live with varying degrees of isolation when still in the relationship, they typically do have at least occasional options for making calls, or for going out, whether it's to get support, or to strategize how to escape," states a column by the Women's Freedom Center in Wednesday's Reformer. "But more than ever in the current climate, they need to keep trusting their own instincts on how best to stay safe, as they do skillfully every day. Survivors are the experts on their own lives, and survival strategies are unique to each situation."

The Women's Freedom Center continues to operate as it did prior to the declaration of a national emergency. It still has a 24-hour hotline, 802-254-6954, that is available for people seeking help getting out of an abusive relationship. The hotline is also available to friends or family members who want to help but are uncertain how best to offer that help.

"We are available to brainstorm about the best, safest way to be a good ally," said Shari. "At the same time, we don't ever want to take control away from the survivor when they are ready to get out. Taking away control can have the opposite outcome of what we are hoping for."

For people fleeing abusive relationships, guiding their own journey is just as important as escaping violence, said Shari.

"There are no more resilient people on the planet than survivors of domestic violence and this is because of what they live with every day," she said.

Shari also noted that if someone has first-hand knowledge that abuse is occurring or has actually witnessed it, they should call 911.

"That is always the fastest way to get someone help," she said.

In response to the pandemic, the advocates at the Women's Freedom Center have adjusted how they physically interact with people, but one thing hasn't changed, said Shari.

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"We can absolutely still safely shelter people," she said.

But the Women's Freedom Center has had to cancel its weekly support group and replace it with a conference call. The good news is the WFC has increased the number of meetings from once a week to every weekday from noon to 1 p.m.

Anyone who would like to join the virtual support group needs to call the hotline for more information.

"It's free. It's confidential. And it's entirely drop in. People can participate as often as they like," said Shari.

Help is also available for batterers who truly want to change. They are often referred to Bill Pelz-Walsh, a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor who hosts a 30-week intervention program for batterers.

"We would like to think that if somebody wants to change badly enough, there is certainly support to try," said Shari.

She noted that people are under a lot of stress right now, but stress doesn't cause abuse. "But somebody who is already an abuser, it can make that person more dangerous. Abuse is a choice. It's always a choice. "

The Women's Freedom Center is committed to supporting survivors of all genders who experienced domestic or sexual violence, said Shari. "This can happen in any kind of relationship, across the whole gender spectrum."

Shari said the Women's Freedom Center couldn't continue to do its work without the support of a generous community.

"One way people can help out is to follow our Facebook page, where we post particular donation needs," she said. "Right now we are welcoming donations of food and gas cards."

Bob Audette can be contacted at raudette@reformer.com.


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