April is Sexual Violence Awareness Month and, normally Clarina Howard Nichols Center in Morristown would be hosting events to raise awareness and money for the organization, which has been helping people escape from domestic and sexual violence since 1981.
But since the coronavirus pandemic started, the phones have been quiet, and that concerns director Becky Gonyea.
“People are in their homes, a lot. And a lot of people aren’t being seen right now, and that’s a concern,” Gonyea said. “A lot of people are just staying quiet and making do.”
She said the group is still operating its shelter for people who have been abused, and staff members are still running a hotline to help with possible domestic violence cases, although they’re working remotely and the shelter’s capacity has been reduced by about half so each family can have their own bathroom. The hotline number is 802-888-5256.
“But we wouldn’t turn anyone away, and we’d find them a place to stay,” Gonyea said. That’s not easy, since, outside of Stowe, there is not a large hotel pool.
Gonyea said she knows it’s likely domestic violence is still happening, but police aren’t being contacted. She said police are aware of this, too, even if they aren’t getting the calls, either.
CNN reported during the weekend that some cities had far more domestic violence cases this past March compared to March 2019. For instance, in Boston, cases were up 22 percent; in Portland, Ore., 27 percent.
“Domestic violence is rooted in power and control, and all of us are feeling a loss of power and control right now,” Katie Ray-Jones, CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, told CNN Saturday. “We're really bracing for a spike post-COVID-19 — that's when law enforcement and advocates and courts are going to hear the really, really scary stuff going on behind closed doors.”
Gonyea said everything is compounded by the fact that people are now stuck in their homes with no “break in the contact” if they’re in an abusive relationship. Having their kids home with them 24-7 is an added stressor, which raises concerns about possible child abuse, too.
“While child abuse isn’t our direct mission, if we do see something, we do” something about it, she said. That includes asking school superintendents to let their staff members know that they may the only safe point of contact in a child’s day.
“My message,” Gonyea said, “is no one deserves to be abused. There’s help available.”