For many, home is the safest place, but as a veteran domestic violence social worker, I have witnessed that is not true for many families. According to the CDC (2017), 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men experience DV in their lifetime- and now, as we face social distancing, and prolonged time at home, those whom live with domestic violence are at increased risk. My colleague Avital Levin shared this frightening dynamic in a previous article.
How can we help?
In the field of domestic violence, our work revolves around safety. We focus our work on helping the victim-survivor to find ways of staying safe. When individuals call the hotline, we work with the victim-survivors to create a “safety plan.”
What is a “safety plan?”
I believe it is better to call a “safety plan,” a safety discussion. It is a dynamic, ever changing discussion or plan to help someone keep safe in an abusive situation. It is not only about ‘escaping’ or ‘leaving’ but addresses ways to stay as safe as possible. Safety discussions include ways to stay safe while in a relationship where the couple lives together, while in a dating relationship, when planning to leave a relationship and after the relationship is over.
I subscribe to the age old adage of “don’t do this at home”’- my suggestions is that if you or someone you love needs to have a safety discussion, call a professional, or Shalom Task Force’s hotline- our experienced advocates can help facilitate this discussion. You can also call the National DV Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or use their text/chat feature by either clicking the chat button on their website at thehotline.org or texting LOVEIS to 22522. If you feel you are in immediate danger, call 911.
But this may not be possible. If someone is in quarantine with the abuser, a call to a hotline or a professional may be dangerous- so I will share some general pointers around safety planning. When we enter this discussion, we address physically safety, but also will address emotional aspects of safety.
(Many of these tips are culled from the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s website – thehotline.org)
Are you able to predict triggers and anticipate escalations?
This does not shift the responsibility to the victim but may help prepare him or her to remain as safe as possible. There may be times that someone may do something to placate the abuser, to somehow to diffuse the situation. Please don’t judge yourself or others, this is the difficult reality of domestic violence. Some of the questions we ask are:
Do you notice patterns of occurrence of the abuse?
Do you notice certain behaviors leading up to an incident or episode?
Do you notice certain changes in appearance attitude, facial expression, etc. before an episode?
By noticing these patterns, you may be able to act sooner and avoid certain places/situations where violence is likely to occur:
Identify safe areas of the house where there are no weapons and there are ways to escape, in general, we suggest you stay out of the kitchen or bathroom.
Practice different scenarios of how to get out of the house or to a safe area.
If possible, have a small bag that includes your ID, medication, some cash- but in an emergency- leave, don’t hesitate to collect these items.
Keep weapons like guns and knives locked away and as inaccessible as possible.
How can one protect oneself during a physically violent incident?
Make yourself a small target. Dive into a corner and curl up into a ball with your face protected and arms around each side of your head, fingers entwined.
If pregnant, curl up and wrap your arms around your belly
If you are being physically attacked, don’t run to where the children are, as your partner may hurt them as well.
Take a long hot shower or drink a nice cup of tea.
Take 10 minutes to listen to your favorite music or read a fun book- something that will make you smile.
Focus on taking care of the basics- eating as healthy as possible.
If possible, go for a walk.
Remember that abuse is NEVER your fault
It is also important to be aware of your digital/technological safety. This is when your abusive partner is using technology to obtain and maintain power and control. Some examples of this are when calls are monitored, caller ID Is checked, your history on the computer may be checked or you aren’t able to text/chat safely. Some ways people stay safer online is to regularly change passwords, remove “check in” from apps on their cell phone or tablets and clear viewing history on browser.
I feel that it is important to include this information, particularly, when you may be stuck in the home, please be aware of this before you call or text/chat a service provider. This will help you make an informed choice about how to best reach out in a way that would help and not escalate danger in the home.
Creating Supportive Community
Our goal at Shalom Task Force is Safe Relationships, Healthy Families, Supportive Communities. This is a challenging time for all of us. We all need to find ways of caring for ourselves and others. Those that are most vulnerable and isolated, need our help and support. Take time out to call your friends. If they are in abusive or high conflict relationships, this is going to be a hard time.
Ask them how they are doing. They may not be able to respond fully- the abuser may be in the room. You can help by listening and checking in.
Ask if they are need anything- if you can get them what they need.
If there is genuine concern for escalation of physical safety and you feel equipped to do so, Come up with a code word that the victim can tell or text you that indicates they need 911 to be called and sent to the house. If you are a neighbor come up with an action (ex. ringing the bell three times consecutively) to signify escalated physical violence.
I keep on reflecting on how fast this virus has spread. It reminds me that hope, courage and care can also be also contagious. Let us join together to spread community and support.
Dr. Frydman, PhD, LCSW, is the executive director of Shalom Task Force, an agency committed to combating domestic violence and fostering healthy and safe relationships. She has been in the field of domestic abuse, family violence, and sexual assault in the Jewish community for over 15 years as both a therapist and community educator.