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By Tanya Harris (Executive director, Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence)

The Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence has seen a 29 percent increase in calls to helplines during March 2020, compared to this time last year – a concerning and expected increase. 

We are distressed nearly one-third more calls came through during this timeframe. The calls are an indication that victims are living in fear and many are trying to reach out for help. The numbers, however, don’t tell the whole story. We know there are many survivors who are facing barriers when attempting to reach out for support, particularly if victims are living at home with their abusers. We are gravely concerned about all Rhode Islanders facing abuse, and it’s more important than ever for us to step up as a community and respond to their call for help. 

We want survivors to know we are here. We are open. COVID-19 has complicated the already difficult circumstances many survivors experience when in an abusive relationship, and shortly after leaving the relationship.

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Zaida Hernandez, member of the Sisters Overcoming Abusive Relationships (SOAR) task force, said when living in a domestic violence situation, “normalcy” is found outside the home.

She said during this pandemic, “Now suddenly the only normalcy you may have had – to go to work, to go to school – is taken away from you. When do you have the opportunity to call when you’re locked up in the house with someone abusive? How do you reach out, how do you get out there (a safe place)? I never had to live through something like this (COVID-19), but I recall some snow days, or when (her abuser) was sick, and the torture I would go through when I was stuck in the house with him…This is ten times worse.”

Hernandez shared advice for fellow survivors, and said, “Don’t be ashamed for how you’re feeling, and if you’re experiencing PTSD…This is a real feeling, this is as real as it gets, and we need to address it. If you have a chance, reach out for help.”

The RICADV reminds the R.I. community support is available – and in many ways, resources have expanded. The RICADV and its network of agencies are open and have transitioned some services to virtual platforms via phone or Internet. Shelters are open, and advocates are assisting anyone needing information or support. Direct services including individual advocacy, safety planning and counseling are being offered remotely.

The Noel Judicial Complex (Kent County) and Garrahy Judicial Complex (Providence) are open for all domestic violence matters, including restraining orders, temporary restraining orders, criminal arraignments and emergency child custody interventions. Court advocates from all our member agencies throughout the state can meet with victims to address protection and safety needs and help them navigate through the court process.

The 24/7 confidential statewide Helpline, which can be reached at 1-800-494-8100, continues to operate, providing assistance and referrals. Domestic violence advocates also offer confidential support through a 24/7 confidential live chat helpline, accessible by visiting www.ricadv.org

As always, we urge victims in immediate danger to call 911. If you are unable to safely call 911, including an address in a text to 911 will alert first responders to your location. Police departments will continue responding to domestic violence calls during this public health crisis.

If you or anyone you know is thinking about reaching out for support, please do not let COVID-19 be one of the barriers in doing so. Our services are available to anyone who needs support.

How you can help: As relatives, friends, coworkers and neighbors, we can help keep victims and their children safe and prevent another tragedy. If you are in an abusive relationship or know someone who might be, or if you are looking for resources for a child who has witnessed domestic violence, call the Rhode Island statewide Helpline for 24-hour support and information at 800-494-8100.

Calling 911 if you suspect or witness abuse is an important step to take, but there are many other ways to help. If you know or suspect someone in your life is a victim of domestic violence, you can help that person stay safe. Listen, and express your concerns without judgment. Ask the person what you can do for them and check in consistently. Help the person create a plan that will keep them safe when abuse occurs and connect them with local resources. Additional information can be found at www.ricadv.org.

About the RICADV: The Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence (RICADV) is an organization dedicated to ending domestic violence. The RICADV was formed in 1979 to support and assist the domestic violence agencies in Rhode Island. The organization provides leadership to its member agencies, strives to create justice for victims, and raises awareness on the issue of domestic violence in Rhode Island. The RICADV’s network of member agencies provides a wide array of services for victims, including emergency shelter, support groups, counseling services, and assistance with the legal system. For more information about these organizations and services, call the statewide Helpline at 800-494-8100.    

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