New Challenges to Face During the COVID-19 crisis, people are in quarantine and practicing social distancing by staying safe inside their homes. For some, home isn't the safest place. This pandemic poses new challenges for the victims of domestic abuse as well as the advocates in shelters and agencies trying to protect them.
In many cities across the country, reports of domestic violence have increased. Many police departments have reported a rise in domestic violence calls. Houston, saw an increase of about 20 percent from February to March. A sheriff of a county in South Carolina, saw an increase of 35 percent at the same time. According to the governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, “We were told by one area Atlanta hospital they have seen a 15 percent increase in domestic violence cases in their facility.” The National Domestic Violence Hotline president and CEO, Katie Ray-Jones, has also stated the numbers and seriousness of cases will increase.
Domestic violence shelters and agencies have stayed open as essential businesses, but social distancing has compelled them to come up with new ways to administer services. Some counselors and advocates are working remotely. Other members of the staff are coming into the shelters and agencies to provide services.
Noor Family Services One such agency in the Atlanta Metro area, Noor Family Services (NFS), faces these circumstances right now. Executive Director, Chama Ibrahim says the priority during this time is "safety first." At the same time, she, other advocates, counselors, and attorneys are accomplishing this task remotely. She and her staff will go into the office to provide supplies such as food, hygiene products, clothing, and other essentials for clients but are limiting personal contact per social distancing guidelines. Staff members conduct intake over the phone to assess what new clients need.
Although NFS assists all families regardless of ethnic or religious background, they specialize in working with the immigrant and refugee community. For some who are immigrants, language could be a barrier in explaining what has happened to them. The advocates at NFS have the training to understand and navigate culturally sensitive topics. They also conduct workshops for other advocates to assist them with situations they may encounter. They help clients to understand their rights and understand the system in the US. Some women from other countries are not even aware domestic abuse is a crime because it is not a crime in their country of origin. In some communities, families may not discuss it openly or consider it a problem. NFS bridges the gap for law enforcement, advocates, and victims.
What They Are Facing Now, they have had to put a hold on training sessions for the community. With the closures of many religious institutions and other community-based organizations, a victim has fewer avenues available to seek help. As essential fundraising events get canceled, NFS not only loses an opportunity for donations, but it also has one less chance to spread awareness to the community. For the vulnerable who require help, not knowing what resources are available is dangerous.
Lack of access to resources is more precarious during this pandemic. Closer proximity to an abuser heightens the likelihood of more abuse. In some cases, abusers have threatened the victim with removal from their home. For immigrants, fear of deportation keeps a victim silent. Now, the added worry of not having a refuge from COVID-19 is another issue.
However, NFS can still provide advocacy and legal support during this time. Despite court closures for most cases, an attorney can assist the client in obtaining a Temporary Protection Order. Another problem for victims is when an abuser doesn’t pay child support; court closures make prosecution difficult. If the victim cannot work because of the stay-at-home order, not having this recourse adds another layer of difficulty. Court closures are also causing delays in divorce cases, which makes it harder for a victim. Despite these setbacks, NFS clients can continue to have access to an attorney.
These are the new challenges that Noor Family Services, other domestic abuse agencies, and shelters are facing around the country. Still, the doors of NFS are open if a woman is in need. As new difficulties emerge, the safety of the clients is the number one priority. Like many advocates, Ibrahim does expect the rates of domestic abuse to go up during this time.
While NFS may not be able to provide one-on-one services the way they would like to at this time, they continue to support clients with supplies, counseling, relocation to a safe location, support groups, and legal services. They persist in raising funds through past supporters and social media.
How You Can Help While supplies are needed, delivery and handling of products are a source of concern due to COVID-19. Donations and gift cards for clients to use for groceries and other necessary items are the best ways to help.
Another way to help is to spread the word that Noor Family Services, other advocacy groups, and shelters are open. These organizations are willing to help and provide services but are seeking out the best ways to do that in these tumultuous times.
Resources for Domestic Violence Victims:
Noor Family Services - (470) 589-7751
Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence – 1-800-33-HAVEN (1-800-334-2836)
114 New Street Suite B
Decatur, GA 30030
404-209-0280 – Phone
404-766-3800 – Fax
The National Domestic Violence Hotline -1-800-799-7233
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