Staying home isn’t safe for all: Domestic violence amid COVID-19

PORTLAND, Ore. — Domestic violence shelters in Portland are working around the clock to help victims and survivors impacted by Oregon’s statewide stay-at-home order during the coronavirus outbreak.

Emmy Ritter, the executive director of Raphael House of Portland, said their 24-hour hotline is getting more calls than usual, and they only expect that to increase.

“For those who live with domestic violence, staying home and isolated with an abuser can put the whole family at greater risk,” Ritter said.

Raphael House is also seeing more survivors reach out for help getting food, hygiene supplies and other critical resources.

“Many of these families already live at the margins, as they’ve been working to rebuild their lives after fleeing abuse,” Ritter said. “Lost jobs and wages, along with lack of childcare, are resulting in incredible financial hardship.”

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Bradley Angle is another domestic violence shelter in Portland focusing on the impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak. Right now, most survivors they are working with are not currently living with their abusers, but that could change as more people reach out for help.

“This situation is unprecedented so it’s hard to say what to expect,” said Alexxis Robinson-Woods, programs and services director. “Safety planning is going to be more challenging under current conditions and things could get worse.”

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Despite the stay-at-home order and businesses being shut down, many shelters are still open for those who need help.

Ritter encourages anyone in need to reach out to their local 24-hour hotline at 503-222-6222. They can also call the National Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

Anyone in immediate danger should call 911.

“We want to remind survivors that internet and phone use can be monitored,” Ritter said. “Advocates can help guide survivors in safety planning around these issues too.”

The National Domestic Violence Hotline also has a guide for survivors on staying safe during the COVID-19 outbreak.

COVID-19 Impacts on Survivors:

  • Abusive partners may share misinformation about the pandemic to control or frighten survivors, or to prevent them from seeking appropriate medical attention if they have symptoms.
  • Abusive partners may withhold insurance cards, threaten to cancel insurance, or prevent survivors from seeking medical attention if they need it.
  • Programs that serve survivors may be significantly impacted –- shelters may be full or may even stop intakes altogether. Survivors may also fear entering shelter because of being in close quarters with groups of people.
  • Survivors who are older or have chronic heart or lung conditions may be at increased risk in public places where they would typically get support, like shelters, counseling centers, or courthouses.
  • Travel restrictions may impact a survivor’s escape or safety plan – it may not be safe for them to use public transportation or to fly.
  • An abusive partner may feel more justified and escalate their isolation tactics.