Faced with a major uptick in calls to its domestic violence hotline since mid-April due to the COVID-19 crisis, the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati ran into an unexpected problem — how do you provide enough space for social distancing during a pandemic?
“Our shelter provides 24-hour safe housing in a congregate setting and we were unable to separate people at a six feet distance,” says Juwana Hall, director of the YWCA’s Domestic Violence Residential Services. “Therefore, we choose to move our survivors to a place where they could be in a space with only themselves or with their children alone.”
To achieve this, the organization has begun moving survivors to alternative housing, including hotel rooms. Between its two emergency shelter facilities for survivors of domestic violence (one in Hamilton County and one in Clermont County), the capacity is 81 people.
Hall says the YWCA was one of the first shelters in Hamilton County to start moving survivors to alternative housing. The organization began moving its Clermont County residents the next week. In addition, the YWCA is still providing meals for survivors, by delivery, and is also hiring security for the locations where survivors are staying.
“I have been very impressed with the speed at which our staff have been able to find alternate housing for our single survivors as well as those with children,” says Phyliss Flanagan-Cox, Toward Equity coordinator and domestic violence coordinator for Hamilton County Children Services’ Child Welfare & Domestic Violence Connection Program.
Abuse during COVID-19
Noticing signs of abuse during a pandemic can be challenging but it’s possible, Flanagan-Cox notes.
“One of the common tactics that abusers use is isolation,” they add. “This aids them in continuing their abuse without being noticed. It’s a good idea to check-in regularly with your friends and relatives during this time especially if you believe they are in an unhealthy relationship.”
While certain populations experience higher rates of abuse in general, Hall says that there is an increase risk of abuse for everyone during a pandemic like this one.
“With people losing their jobs, children being home all day and the entire families having to quarantine in the same household, [the pandemic] has increased the stress on families and we have seen that domestic violence has increased,” she adds. “We have also been advised from our survivors that their abusers were drinking the time of the incidents.”
Both Hall and Flanagan-Cox say the best way to help is to listen to and believe survivors when they disclose abuse.
“There are a lot of victim blaming attitudes in our dominant culture,” Flanagan-Cox notes. “I believe everyone owes it to themselves to raise their consciousness about domestic violence. Validating their experience and being non-judgmental is helpful until the survivor decides they are ready and feel safe enough to leave the situation.”
“It is important to listen when someone says that they have been abused,” Hall adds. “If you shut them out, they may not ask for help in the future.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, call the YWCA’s 24-hour hotline at 513-872-9259.
Continued COVID-19 coverage has been supported by a grant from the Facebook Journalism Project, a program run in partnership with the Lenfest Institute for Journalism and Local Media Association.