“Reaching in” best way to prevent domestic violence


As Hoosiers adjust to life under Gov. Eric Holcomb’s stay-at-home order, an unintended consequence is becoming noticeable: increased domestic violence.

Victim advocates at Crisis Connection — a local nonprofit that serves victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in Dubois and surrounding counties — said that although call volume to their hotline is down, the calls that come through are more high-intensity. The police departments in Huntingburg and Jasper have seen the number of calls for domestic violence situations increase, though JPD Chief Nathan Schmitt said the uptick hasn’t been significant, just enough to be noticeable.

Neither the Ferdinand Police Department nor the Dubois County Sheriff’s Office have seen an increase in domestic violence calls.

“We all kind of thought we might,” said Sgt. Stuart Wilson at the sheriff’s office. “We hope we don’t.”

Police officers and Crisis Connection advocates attribute the increase in calls and the severity of the calls to families being stuck at home with the added stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Because of the isolation right now, people aren’t able to reach out,” said Paula Rasche, executive director of Crisis Connection.

Victim Advocate Jayne Smith added that in situations where domestic violence is already happening, the stress of the pandemic and the stay-at-home order exacerbate the problem. She explained it this way: When an abuser is working, they’re already using finances and hypervigilance to control their partner. Now that they are unemployed or working fewer hours, that hypervigilance becomes their full-time job, making it harder and more dangerous for their victim to reach out for help, especially when leaving may not be an option due to the dangers of catching or transmitting COVID-19. Group shelters like the ones utilized by domestic violence victims can be hotbeds for the disease, and many are already full anyway. And for people in Crisis Connection’s service area, the nearest shelters are an hour or more away, making them less accessible.

And it’s not just adults who can be affected, Rasche pointed out. The majority of child abuse crimes are perpetrated by someone the child knows, and children who live around other types of abuse become second-hand victims themselves.

In a time when victims of abuse can’t reach out, Rasche and Smith suggest friends, family and the community as a whole reach in.

“It isn’t always the victim who reaches out to us,” Rasche said. “Sometimes it’s a friend or family member who thinks something is wrong. Some of our greatest success stories started out that way.”

Reaching in can be as simple as a phone call or a text message to your loved one. Some things to look out for in responses are short conversations or avoiding questions about what’s going on in the home, especially if there were signs of abuse before the stay-at-home order went into effect. But any unusual behavior can be a red flag, Smith said, as every situation and victim is different.

General signs of abuse include drug and alcohol use, excessive jealousy, controlling behaviors or previous incidents of abuse.

“Your biggest indicator of the future is past behavior,” Rasche said.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, call Crisis Connection’s hotline at 1-800-245-4580. Victim advocates and trained volunteers are taking calls 24 hours a day and can advise bystanders on how best to help their loved ones. Victim advocates are also on hand to assist victims with safety planning and protective orders.

Rasche and Smith emphasized that the most important thing is keeping lines of communication open with your loved ones, especially as the pandemic continues.

“Everybody needs to be on the lookout for people who are vulnerable in our community,” Rasche said. “It should be that way all the time. You go back to our tagline: Connections prevent and connections heal.”

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