A survey shows that many domestic violence and sexual assault organizations in Alaska have experienced an increase in hotline calls as people have had to remain at home amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Anchorage Daily News reported that the Alaska Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault took a survey of 30 shelter providers statewide from March 11 to April 24. In that time period, shelter capacity was reduced by 57% to comply with federal social distancing guidelines – meaning some shelters limited one person to a room instead of four – at the same time that hotline calls increased 52%.
But at Unalaskans Against Sexual Assault and Family Violence (USAFV), officials have seen a decrease in calls.
KUCB's Hope McKenney sat down with M. Lynn Crane, director of USAFV, to discuss the already slow year at the shelter, and what the organization is doing to help the community during the pandemic.
M. LYNN CRANE: While it is true that some Alaska programs have seen an increase, it's not true for all of them. Some are actually seeing a decrease. And I believe from what I've read, it's the same in the Lower 48. I would say USAFV’s call numbers are a bit lower than in previous years. But as I said earlier, we were already in the middle of an unusually slow year. And I think that the multiple tragedies that have happened in our community over the last year or so, the Ballyhoo accident, the two plane crashes, the Scandies Rose sinking, several overdose deaths, and the sudden deaths of two young people this spring, have left this community in a state of compounded trauma. And now we have this pandemic on top of all that, and people who experience compounded trauma and stress and uncertainty tend to, I believe, cling to what is familiar. So if I'm living in an abusive relationship, the thought of ending the relationship or even leaving my home right now just feels so overwhelming, that I just can't do it. So I might stay longer in that situation than I might have otherwise. So, that being said, we know that just because things have been a little slow doesn't mean that domestic violence or child abuse have gone away. And we do believe that victims and children are at higher risk during this time. You know, most of the people that report child abuse are teachers. And so we don't have, you know, we don't have that safety net for kids in our community right now. So it's important to really be aware of what's going on as much as you can. Domestic violence is primarily about power and control. And perpetrators use abusive tactics – emotional, psychological, sexual, and physical – to gain and maintain that power and control over their partners and other family members. And living with this pandemic and economic and other uncertainty that goes along with it is a frightening and really stressful situation and people who use abusive behavior often use increased stress as an excuse to escalate their violence. So we know that women who experience domestic violence are already isolated a lot of the time. So being hunkered down makes them more so staying home from work and other outside activities means they no longer have those safe times away from their abuser, their abuser isn't working, they might be home with them all the time. Some abusers may use this situation to further abuse their partners by withholding necessities such as hand sanitizer, soap, medicine. Withholding information or sharing bad information about the pandemic to frighten their partner. It could prevent victims from seeking out appropriate medical care, threaten to kick the victims out, threaten to kick children out. And people may be afraid to leave because they think they will get sick. I mean people know the shelter is very small and so they might be afraid to come here. So people may also be unable to leave town because of travel restrictions and not having financial resources to do so. So it's a very, very complex situation that we're dealing with. And there aren't any easy answers, I don't think.
KUCB: So, as you said, the last year has been just really difficult in this community for a lot of people. And that's now compounded by the pandemic. What should Unalaskans do if they're seeing problematic behavior among friends or family, or they themselves are experiencing any form of abuse during this time?
CRANE: So, I would say check in with each other. Let people know that you're thinking of them, that you're there for them. If you know that someone is living in a violent household or that their partner mistreats them, maybe set up like a code word or a phrase that if you're texting or talking to that person, and they use that phrase, they know that they should call the police to do a welfare check. I mean, even if the violence hasn't escalated to where there's physical abuse, it's good to have that intervention before it gets to that point. And sometimes that's all it takes to calm down the situation, at least for that immediate moment. And sometimes that's the best you can do. You could make sure that that person knows about USAFV’s phone number, which is 581-1500. And our text number which is 359-1500. We talked about this last time we were on KUCB with APIA, but I'll talk about it again. If you're a parent, set up a check in system with other parents using phones, social media. Make it okay and safe to talk about just how difficult and scary this is, how incredibly stressful it is to be with your children 24/7, and be there for each other. When your kids are driving you absolutely insane and you feel you're reaching your breaking point and might lash out. One of the things that can be helpful is to learn to recognize what what's happening in our bodies when we start to get really angry, so that we can take a step back, you know, we might hear ringing in our ears or we might start to feel hot, we might feel our heart start to race or hear our voice getting louder. So when we feel these things happening, we can make sure our children are safe, step away, and that can mean anything from calling a friend, to sticking your head in a cold shower, screaming into a pillow, walking outside and walking around the house five times, or just breathing in fresh air or calling APIA or USAFV.
KUCB: Well, thank you for letting us know about all of those different options for people. And in addition to those, I know USAFV is offering assistance to Unalaskans having difficulties, you said, paying their mortgage, rent, or utilities bills during the pandemic. Can you tell me a little bit about what options are available?
CRANE: Sure. So this year as in some other years, USAFV applied for and received a basic Homeless Assistance Program grant from the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, and these funds help pay some of our shelter expenses, but they also enable us to assist people in securing or retaining safe housing. So this year we received some supplemental funding in addition to our regular grants, so that if someone's income has been disrupted by the COVID-19 shutdown, we may be able to assist them with past due mortgage, rent, or utilities. And there are some qualifications that we would just need to get some information from you. It's not that hard of a process to go through. And even if you fell behind for other reasons, it's worth it to give us a call. I mean, we only have a finite pot of money. So once it's gone, it's gone. But it's worth it to give us a call and we might be able to help. And, as always, we can help out with things like food, formula, diapers, that kind of thing. We don't want anybody to fall through the cracks.
KUCB: Well, thank you for taking the time to speak with me today about these things.
CRANE: Thanks for making the time for us. I appreciate it.
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To find out more about USAFV and the organization's community assistance programs, you can call them at 581-1500.
• For immediate response, call 911
• National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233 or 800-787-3224 TTY
• National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-HOPE (4673)
• To report Child Abuse, call 1-800-478-4444 or report online at ReportChildAbuse@alaska.gov.
For a listing of all local victim services' 24/7 hotlines, visit dps.alaska.gov/CDVSA/Services/VictimServices.