Domestic violence advocacy group sees increase in calls during pandemic

Coronavirus

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) ─ In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, local domestic violence advocates are seeing an uptick in calls for help.

Executive Director of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence Tonya Harris said the pandemic is exacerbating an already dangerous situation for victims living with their abusers.

“Loss of jobs, children are home,” Harris said. “[They ask] ‘how am I going to pay my bills? How am I going to provide food for my children?”‘ 

“Add on that now to a domestic violence victim,” she added. “You can only imagine the fear right now that that person is experiencing.”

Harris, a former Providence police officer of 20 years, attributed the increase in calls to the fact that everyone is hunkered down.

“Now the abuser has 24-hour access to the victim,” she said, adding that while many parts of daily life have come to a halt, “domestic violence never takes a break.”

She’s also heard from local domestic violence advocates who have reported a decrease in domestic violence calls for help.

“The decrease can also be associated with the abuser [having] that access to their victim,” Harris said. “So it’s more intimidation.”

But there are other ways that victims can access help other than calling, according to Harris.

The coalition’s website has resources for people looking for help, including a 24/7 internet chat service with advocates.

With so many places closed because of coronavirus, Harris wants people to know that advocates and the court system is still available to help.

“Our courts are open. They are hearing restraining orders, temporary restraining orders and domestic violence cases,” said Harris. “And once the restraining order is obtained the abuser has to leave the home and not the victim.”

Another resource for victims are shelters. 

Anne Mulhall, director of prevention and outreach at the Domestic Violence Resource Center of South County, said she has also received many calls for help.

Mulhall said she wants people to know that they can still help victims find shelter.

Though her shelter is full and their clients are staying there for an extended period of time because of the virus, she said the organization is working to find alternatives for victims who need help.

“[We are] finding different avenues whether that be hotels or other shelters if they have room,” said Mulhall. 

She said she wants people to be aware that despite many restrictions currently in place in Rhode Island, help is still available.

“What I’m preparing for is to make sure everybody knows that if they are living in their home and if they are experiencing domestic violence that our helplines are open,” said Mulhall.

The shelter has had to make its screening process virtual as well as its support groups. Mulhall said besides those adjustments, not much has changed.

“All of the things are in place that were always in place, with modification,” Mulhall said.

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