The global pandemic is a crisis, worse than anything in modern memory. It has driven many millions into their homes for safety.
The tragedy is, the home is not a safe place for some troubled families, and the added stress of upheaval and financial insecurity has just made it more perilous.
Across the country and in Hawaii, concern is rising among advocates for victims of domestic violence and child abuse, all of whom have been directed in many parts of the country to shelter in place at home, lessening risk of infection by the novel coronavirus, the disease known as COVID-19.
It’s worrisome, because under the best of circumstances, the victim’s best course is to get away from the abuser, who now likely is under even more tension, triggering an assault. And parents of children who are now being essentially homeschooled could react to the stress by lashing out.
This is a time when victims need intervention the most, and social service workers are trying to reach out in ways better suited to the circumstances. But now is when the broader community needs to keep friends and loved ones in mind, reaching out for help on their behalf.
In the overwhelming majority of the cases, women are the targets of the abuse, and the economic arrest caused by the business shutdowns is going to disproportionately affect their financial status even more intensely.
They are more likely to hold jobs in industries with poor protections, and two-thirds of the nation’s tipped restaurant workers, already with low pay and few benefits, are women, whose workplaces have largely gone dark.
They are even more vulnerable and dependent than before the pandemic hit; their spouse or partner also likely to be under increased stress.
Add to this toxic mix the fact that the family no longer can send the children to school or day care. Long before the pandemic, April had been established as National Child Abuse Prevention Month. But in 2020, the relevance of that topic at this specific time is exquisitely clear.
It encapsulates, for starters, the importance of support from the Department of Education in offering guidance to parents, newly appointly homeschool teachers, with materials and online resources they can use in instruction.
Even more crucial is outreach to clients from government and nonprofit social service agencies that address this problem.
In the area of domestic violence, efforts to provide support are being stepped up. Nanci Kreidman, chief executive officer of the Domestic Violence Action Center, said the nonprofit agency has added a number for incoming text messages: (605) 956-5680. That way, a household member not in a safe position to make a voice call could still put out an SOS, Kreidman said.
She added that the center has contacted everyone on its caseload list to make sure they have a safety plan and see if other help is needed, for which there is some emergency funding.
“If you have a co-worker, or a family member, or a neighbor, or a patient, or a client in whom you have seen red flags — reach out to them,” she said. “Ask how they are, let them know you are concerned about their safety. … Let them know you are available to listen, to help them get to safety, willing to call the police.”
Similarly, Robert Raasch-Barajas, Prevent Child Abuse Hawaii executive director, advised in a commentary published March 22 in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that now would be the time for friends to help parents in need. And the parents themselves need to take a breather: “Don’t take it out on your kids,” he added.
The need for this advice, and for everyone’s help, have never been greater.