Social distancing for some could mean being ‘shut in’ with an abuser

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) --
Home is intended to be a safe space to shelter from the spread of the deadly coronavirus. Unfortunately, however, for some people, work and school are where they seek refuge. As cities around the world go on lockdown, advocates fear there will be an increase in both domestic violence and child abuse.

According to reports, isolation enforced by the Chinese government amid the COVID-19 outbreak led to a surge in domestic violence. Police reports showed that there were three times more cases reported in the month of February than the year prior.

“According to our statistics, 90 percent of the causes of violence were related to the COVID-19 epidemic,” said Wan Fei, the founder of the anti-domestic violence not-for-profit.

“This can be a terrifying situation,” said Aubrey Carpenter, a licensed Clinical Social Worker and Therapist at Gardenia Cove in Montgomery. “Being shut in with an abuser can allow an abuser to exert more control, even over finances or medical assistance.”

Carpenter said abusers can use the coronavirus as a way to further isolate a victim by telling them it’s not safe to leave the home because they could possibly become infected or infect others.

Carpenter said it is very important that those who are in domestic situations have a safety plan. There are resources here in Montgomery, such as the One Place Family Justice Center and the Family Sunshine Center. You can also reach out to the National Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-799 SAFE (7233) or call 911.

"I know we are practicing social distancing, but this is a time where we really need to stay in connection with one another and stay in contact," said Carpenter. "We are at a higher risk now that people are more confined."

Schools across the U.S. have extended spring break, and some have even canceled classes for the rest of the year. This means children who rely on school lunches for survival and their teachers for emotional support could be struggling.

“We are very concerned because these are such different circumstances,” said Jannah Bailey, Executive Director of Child Protect, a children’s advocacy center in Montgomery. “Teachers are our biggest reporters, they are the ones that are with the children the longest and so even after spring break we were anticipating that the numbers would go up. Usually when the kids are not in school you don’t see a lot of reports of abuse because they’re not in school with teachers.”

Bailey said during the holidays there are people and distractions around, but right now there isn't any which can put children at risk in a more vulnerable position for abuse.

“Take breaks from each other,” said Bailey. “Take some breaths and walk away. We need to remember that whatever we are feeling, children are going to double that feeling. Try to be patient and explain to them what is happening. This is something new for all of us.”

Bailey says the community needs to turn panic into purpose.

“Maybe everything is going great in your house but maybe a neighbor’s not and you can sense that,” Bailey said. “Just talk to them. Talk over the fence. We can stay a social distance with still being able to visit with people.”

Bailey encourages you to call Hands on River Region at 2-1-1 if you need someone to talk to or report abuse. You can also call Child Protect at 334- 262- 1220.

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