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By Kellyann Kostyal-Larrier
Fearless Executive Director
While our nation is facing unprecedented times and navigating uncharted waters during this public health crisis, victims of domestic violence face additional risk to their safety and wellbeing. The steps being taken across the globe speak to reducing risk, saving lives, and creating a healthier future for all humankind. This is vital if we want to overcome this health crisis but we must hold space for the victims and survivors having to take these risk reduction measures knowing they will increase their personal risk and potentially have lethal outcomes within their homes.
Access to services, support, and the ability for victims to make informed choices around safety, risk, and danger are greatly impacted by the COVID outbreak and the important restrictions put in place to help reduce the spread. When victims are forced to shelter in place with an abuser who continues to choose to terrorize their families, and there is very limited, if any relief available, the danger to victims and their children is greatly increased. When we couple that with access to weapons in homes of those who use coercive and abusive behaviors the risk and danger for victims and their children jump to possibly lethal results.
Now more than ever we must ensure victims know the resources and that help is still available to them. Victims may be exploring new methods to connect or seek help and their ability to do so may be delayed because the victim is searching for a window of opportunity to seek relief, call for help, or explore options. Those who use violence and are abusive within their homes create a significant cost to the rest of society, as their behaviors have long term effects on those whom they abuse and surrounding support systems, and communities. As a community all of us can play a vital role as an active bystander by ensuring we know our local resources and where a victim can seek support even during these times. Whether you are the delivery driver in someone’s community, grocery store clerk, educator connecting on social platforms, or out on a walk in your neighborhood, being extra observant during these times can have lifesaving impact. Victims that are able to connect to advocates can be supported with their safety plans and be provided with information to make informed decisions on what their next steps may be.
It’s also imperative, even during times of great uncertainty around this global health pandemic, that we do not confuse correlation and causation when it comes to domestic violence. Many, if not most of us, are feeling the stressors of social isolation, economic devastation, changes in education, fear, yet we do not make the choice to be abusive and use tactics of power and control on our partner and/or children. Fundamentally, the decision to use abusive and coercive tactics of power and control rest in the hands of the abuser and the choices that they make. The notion that COVID-19 is a cause of any increase in violence is misguided, dangerous, and contrary to what we know about abusive partners’ behaviors.
Most importantly it is critical that systems designed to provide relief, hold offenders accountable, and ultimately enhance the safety of victims and children in our communities stay the course. We must never lose sight of the fact that the abuser has chosen their actions and decisions to inflict harm and that the abuser, not the victim, is responsible for the necessary engagement of civil and criminal systems that may be overstretched and limited as a result of statewide safety precautions. If victims are able to seek relief in any capacity we must ensure that the focus stays on holding the one using the abusive behaviors and tactics of control accountable. We must all take an active role in sending messages that abusive behavior will never be tolerated. It is not the victims’ responsibility to make the behavior stop, it is the responsibility of the one behaving that way, and that of those of us who have the ability, power, and privilege to do so. If you or someone you know may be a victim of domestic violence, teen dating violence, or human trafficking there is help. Our trained advocates are available and can be reached on our 24 hour hotline (845) 562-5340 and Fearless! now has web chat/text available at www.fearlesshv.org.