CLEVELAND — With the possibility of another stay at home order looming in the near future, domestic violence advocates throughout northeast Ohio worry this means more victims trapped at home with their abusers.
Both Terri Heckman, the CEO of the Battered Women’s Shelter of Summit and Medina Counties, and Melissa Graves, the CEO of Journey Center for Safety and Healing in Cuyahoga County, report when the pandemic first hit, calls to help hotlines went down, in the summer months those calls went back up, now they’re decreasing again.
“We can tell people are being locked back down, people are being asked to work back home again. We can tell that’s starting to happen and the victims aren’t reaching out to help,” said Heckman.
With the rise of COVID-19 cases in the spotlight, there’s a threat domestic violence will increase, too.
“We’ve had people call from closets and whisper to us ‘I can’t talk if they hear me, they’ll come get me.’ We’ve had them hang up on zoom calls when they’re on meetings with us because we know someone walked in,” said Heckman.
Graves said the pandemic puts victims in a bad spot.
“The longer COVID goes on, the more financial insecurity, the more uncertainty and continued isolation, so we are very concerned,” she said.
Heckman echoed her sentiment.
“There’s a much higher tension in all homes right now.”
The Ohio Domestic Violence Network showed 109 people died from domestic violence between July of 2019 to June 2020, that’s a 35% increase from the year prior.
Graves said they’re working overtime to think of ways to get resources to people who may need it.
“We are really trying to get the help line number out in billboards, at pharmacies, in health clinics, in grocery stores, in places where a survivor might go where their abuser isn’t necessarily with them,” said Graves.
But they’re working with limited funds. In October, the federal money from the Victims of Crime Act most nonprofits need to survive was cut by 37%.
“During a time that we have survivors who are at higher risk and there’s escalating domestic violence, we are also experiencing significant funding cuts,” said Graves. “It’s a really dangerous time and we need more support not less.”
Heckman said the first step anyone who finds themself in an unsafe situation needs to take is to make people aware of it.
“Reach out now before the holidays start and the stress gets higher. Reach out now before we are on complete lockdown, if we’re are going that way, get prevention help now. It’s very hard for us to get to victims unless they get to us,” she said.
Both agencies want people to know that they work hard to keep their shelters COVID free and have not had any outbreaks. They also can still put victims in safe spots if that victim does test positive for COVID-19.
If you need help, call these numbers.
The Ohio Domestic Violence Network 1800-934-9840
Battered Women’s Shelter of Summit and Medina 330-374-1111
Journey Center for Safety and Healing NEO 216-391-4357