Domestic violence victims may not be 'safer at home.' Two Mid-South nonprofits are here to help.

If you're in need of assistance, see the list at the bottom of this article.

Para ayuda con violencia doméstica en español llame a CasaLuz al 901-500-8214 o contacte [email protected] 



For victims of domestic violence, an executive order to stay at home may help them escape a public health threat, but it also increases the risk of household abuse behind closed doors.

That’s why local victim advocate organizations are continuing to assist clients during the COVID-19 pandemic quarantines.

“We are considered an essential service,” said Marquiepta Odom, executive director of YWCA of Greater Memphis. “We are still here. Still operating and operating with caution.”

YWCA offers counseling, legal assistance, and emergency shelter to domestic violence victims. They also train people to recognize signs of abuse.

Odom said her team implemented changes at the beginning of March to protect staff, clients, and the public from the threat of COVID-19.

Everyone who enters the YWCA building has to sanitize their hands at a dispenser placed at the entrance. One-on-one meetings between advocates and clients now take place in large conference rooms with at least six feet between individuals.

Survivors living in YWCA’s emergency shelter are encouraged to stay in their rooms as much as possible and use email or phone to interact with on-site and off-site staff.

In mid-March, the Family Safety Center also started reducing foot traffic at its Madison Avenue office, while still maintaining its service to victims of domestic violence. 

The center has some limited emergency housing and works closely with other area agencies to get victims to safety and fill their immediate and longer-term needs. The Family Safety Center can also help victims navigate courts and legal needs.

“We began working with clients only by phone,” said spokeswoman Conchita Ruiz-Topinka. “We can offer safety planning by phone and pre-screen individuals requesting an order of protection.”

Safety planning helps victims who still live with their abusers reduce as much potential harm as possible and helps those who have left maintain ongoing safety.

“It helps the victim understand what he or she needs to do to be safe, how to be safe during a violent incident, and how to leave the relationship safely if necessary,” Ruiz-Topinka said.
 

When 'SAFER AT HOME' ISn't SAFE 

A shelter-in-place announcement from Shelby County Health Department director Alisa Haushalter came March 24. The state governor issued a similar order effective April 1.

All Shelby County municipalities and unincorporated areas are under Safer at Home orders.

Haushalter ordered individuals to stay home unless performing an essential service or task and businesses and service providers “not deemed to be life-sustaining” to close physical locations.

The order permits organizations that provide social services, like YWCA and the Family Safety Center, to remain open.

Ruiz-Topinka said crises, such as a global pandemic and its short- and long-term economic impacts, can actually increase instances of domestic violence.

“Domestic violence is not triggered by one single factor,” she said. "It is really about power and control—one individual exerting power and control over another individual. In [a] toxic relationship, financial pressures, isolation, and confined spaces can result in violence.”

As knowledge of the severity of COVID-19 spreads, Family Safety Center and YWCA are experienced an increase in calls for assistance.

Odom said YWCA's calls for domestic violence assistance typically decline after Christmas and pick back up in late April.

“This year that has not been the case,” she said. “Unfortunately during stressful times there will be an increase ... and we’re already seeing that.”

“Many of these calls request sheltering because the [law enforcement] officer on the scene has advised the victim to leave their current situation for safety reasons,” Ruiz-Topinka said.

As of March 31, the Shelby County Health Department reported 497 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and three deaths countywide. That’s up from 379 cases on March 30. There are 2,239 confirmed cases across Tennessee, up from 1,537 on March 29.

RESOURCES FOR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE VICTIMSYou can also call the Family Safety Center's 24-hour helpline at 901-249-7611 or the YWCA of Greater Memphis's 24-hour helpline at 901-725-4277.  

The 24-hour National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or live chat here

Find reliable information and resources for food, employment, safety, parents, and more in High Ground's Memphis Area COVID-19 Resource Guide. Updated daily. 

Read more articles by Brandi Hunter.

Brandi Hunter is a native Memphian and freelance content creator. She writes and podcasts about Memphis, faith and entrepreneurship for local and national publications, and leads a creative media assistance studio based in Memphis.
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