‘Safer at home” may be good public health guidance; it is certainly the directive that has been respectfully followed. It is a directive, however, that places many island people in danger.
Staying at home with an abusive partner is not safe; in fact, the risks increase as time passes. Requests for assistance from survivors received by the Domestic Violence Action Center (DVAC) are steady, and beginning to increase.
When a person lives with an abuser (even if they do not identify with that label or had not — yet — applied it to their partners), all efforts are focused on doing what is asked, complying with rules, minimizing conflict and staying out of the way. As time passes, that becomes more difficult, and the results, less predictable. Recent chats received on the DVAC website have offered, “I think I am in an abusive relationship.”
There has been attention to this issue by various leaders (the UN secretary general) and various countries (France, Spain). Locally, businesses (Honolulu Board of Realtors, AlohaCare, Uber), entertainers (Jake Shimabukuro, Pomaika‘i Lyman, Raiatea Helm, Paula Fuga), leaders (Attorney General Clare Connors, state Rep. Della Belatti), the media, state Department of Health and grant-makers (Harold K.L. Castle Foundation, Clarence T.C. Ching Foundation), all have undertaken supportive initiatives to serve DVAC, survivors and island families suffering the harm of abuse.
The services offered to the community between March 30 and May 1 through DVAC programs include the completion of 1,066 safety plans, contact with 3,038 clients, legal information provided to 708 survivors, and 701 referrals to community resources. Financial grants have been made available to some 43 victims.
We want to make sure that victims do not feel invisible and that they are aware we know they are being harmed. We also want them to know that domestic violence programs are open, ready to assist and making accommodations for health, hygiene and safety for anyone who comes forward asking for help. DVAC has added features to its communications to enable survivors to seek help: with text and chat capacity 24 hours, victims can get help to get safe. Hits to DVAC’s website have increased 77% since the end of February, and contact with our helpline has increased 68%.
We fully anticipate that there is a landslide at the other end of the stay-at-home directive. In a one-month period between April and May, safety plans completed by DVAC staff with survivors increased 70% and legal information increased by 271%. Victims will be utilizing every pathway they have at their disposal to escape, flee and protect their children. Some of their comments: “He almost killed me. My children are terrorized. I can’t live like that anymore.”
The mandate for coordinated and responsive support is pronounced. Law enforcement, courts, businesses, churches, health care practitioners and system agencies working to meet other needs (financial assistance, SNAP, etc.) and families are going to have to stare boldly into the abyss of abuse.
All the training received about domestic violence by intervenors will be put to use; all misconceptions will have to be abandoned. We are going to have a crisis of enormous proportion to manage. Families will be on shaky ground, right alongside the economy.
There is no room for us to minimize the fact that some families are in danger at home. If you have ever had concerns about someone you know or seen any red flags, now is a good time to reach out to them. With a listening heart, let them know you are willing to help them. Be supportive, offer information, let them know community programs are open to assist them.
If you are in danger at home, we are here.
Not everyone is safer at home.
Nanci Kreidman is chief executive officer of the Domestic Violence Action Center.