It’s fitting that this year’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month takes place during the last stretch of a monumental election and in the midst of an all-encompassing public health crisis. Family and intimate partner abuse, unfortunately, are nearly always relegated to the back of our minds — when it isn’t left out of them altogether.

And with people largely looking the other way, whether it’s because our attention is consumed by other matters or we simply don’t know what to do, domestic violence goes on in numbers that should shame us.

Until enough of us can recognize the signs of domestic violence and are willing to act on behalf of our family members, friends and colleagues, the hard fact is that abuse will remain a widespread problem.

It has gotten worse during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has not only dominated our attention but also isolated us. People in abusive relationships have not over the last several months had as many moments of reprieve from their toxic households, or chances for co-workers to notice signs of abuse.

The isolation has occurred at the same time that pandemic-related stressors, financial and otherwise, are everywhere, ratcheting up the temperature in many homes.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline reported calls were up 6% in March over the previous year, and 15% in April. From April to June, anti-domestic abuse groups in Maine reported a nearly 50% increase in helpline calls, text messages, emails and other contacts. The number of people seeking emergency shelter as the result of abuse is also on the rise, the groups said.

It’s hard to think of all the people out there now who feel so alone in their abuse, including children, whose exposure to such violent, unsettling experiences could follow them through life, affecting their physical and mental well-being.

But if we in our communities are going to help them, we can’t ignore it. The first step is for more of us to recognize the signs of the abuse — the controlling, belittling behavior, the attempts to isolate and intimidate, as well as the low self-esteem and withdrawing from survivors, and the aggression, depression and parroting of abusive language seen in children exposed to abuse. More information can be found at thehotline.org.

Advocates are also available 24 hours a day. Survivors and their loved ones can get helpful information and support from the statewide hotline at 1-866-834-HELP (4357) or the national hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

Advocates need help, too, however. Anti-abuse groups like those in Maine received some funding from the initial federal COVID relief package, the CARES Act, using it to provide more assistance online and to shelter survivors.

But more is needed, and negotiations over another relief bill have stalled. With isolation as a result of the coronavirus sure to extend for some time period, advocates for abuse survivors will need funding to adjust and still deliver help.

Even more so than usual, this is no time to forget about domestic abuse.

 


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