COVID-19 has increased barriers for victims of domestic violence, according to a Montana shelter.
The Friendship Center of Helena said, "We have found COVID-19 has increased the barriers victims of domestic violence and sexual assault encounter. It also is escalating the level of violence they are experiencing in many cases."
The Friendship Center said they started tracking statistics related to COVID 19 and domestic violence on April 8, 2020. Since that day, they say 34 clients have told them COVID-19 has affected their current situation, especially impacting their ability to leave and their access to their support systems.
They gave the following numbers:
- Affected visitation and co-parenting ability (1)
- Chose to leave sooner (1)
- experienced delayed civil proceedings (1)
- experienced delayed criminal proceedings of their offender (2)
- impacted their ability to reach out to support systems/resources (17)
- lost housing (3)
- prevented getting into new housing (4)
- prevented/affected relocation (5)
- prevented/delayed ability to move into shelter (9)
They said, "Shelters also have new requirements and limitations, including our own which is currently operating at half-capacity to minimize the risk of the virus. This has also greatly impacted us financially, as we are sheltering people at hotels or quarantining them before moving them into our shelter.
Another facility that serves victims of domestic violence, Angela's Piazza, said they saw an increase in the number of calls for help soon after coronavirus arrived in Montana.
Director of Angela's Piazza Women's Drop In Center Sister Mary Dostal said she normally takes one to two calls a week from people who need help. After initially closing for two weeks when the coronavirus arrived in Montana, that number went up.
Sister Dostal said, "Then, when we reopened, in one week I got five calls from women who had just experienced domestic violence. And, two of them were quite violent."
She added, "In really dysfunctional relationships where maybe they are verbally abusive, but the woman kind of dismisses it, excuses it, and minimizes it. When they have to live really close together day after day after day, I think it just begins to escalate and then, the physical violence."
Sister Dostal said the number of calls has gone back down as Montana has opened back up.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, "The COVID-19 pandemic may also impact those experiencing violence in the following ways:
- Abusers may further isolate and control victims of violence.
- Abusers may share misinformation about the pandemic to control or frighten victims or prevent them from seeking medical treatment, if they need it.
- Programs that serve victims, such as shelters and counseling centers, may be full or unable to assist them. Victims may fear entering shelters for fear of being exposed to COVID-19.
- Travel restrictions may impact a victim’s escape or safety plan."
If you are experiencing domestic violence, you can call The Friendship House 24/7 at 406-442-6800 or Angela's Piazza at 406-255-0611. There is also a list of more phone numbers here that will direct you to resources in your area.