HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Victims of domestic violence are especially vulnerable during the ongoing pandemic shutdown, with many of them, forced to be at home behind closed doors with their abusers.

Advocates are now putting out a call and urging the public to be aware and know the signs, as research shows that during economic downturns, family violence increases.

Despite this new normal, a main barrier for victims of abuse remains the same.

“The biggest thing is making sure that that person knows that you’re there for them, that you support them, that you believe them of what they’re experiencing,” says Jim Willshier, with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, or PCAR.

Willshier said the organization has noticed a trend with increasing alcohol and firearm sales amid the shutdown.

“Those things in themselves don’t necessarily lend to any violence but when [someone] is under a lot of stress, we have more people who may be using substances as a coping mechanism,” Willshier said.

For younger victims, being away from mandated reporters like teachers or coaches, only worsens an already-existing problem.

“In this pandemic, when we’re all sequestered behind closed doors, children aren’t having the chance to have those interactions,” Willshier said, adding that online learning and video chats with educators still may not help discover a victim’s ordeal. “That may not be enough to be able to see the signs that mandated reporters are trained to see, whether that be physical bruising whether it may be any kind of emotional reaction that they’re having.”

A child’s bruises or unusual behavior may now go unnoticed, and unreported. A UPMC study using data from 23 Pa. counties, revealed a 240% increase in abusive head trauma that directly coincided with the 2008 economic recession.

“Ages one and under, and ages one to five we saw an increase in the number of head trauma,” Willshier said. “The stress that a lot of families are under actually causes a lot more injuries amongst children.”

State Police echo that trend, and shared stats from February to April, 2020, for Dauphin, Cumberland, Perry, Franklin and Adams counties.

It shows 130 fewer crashes and 70 fewer DUIs, but domestic violence calls, are up by 38.

“These are the ingredients that could lead up to someone hitting a breaking point where they do do something,” Willshier said.

There’s always help: 1-800-799-SAFE or 7233, is a 24-hour national domestic abuse hotline,
or for child abuse – you call PA’s ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313.

All hotlines and websites – like PCAR.org – are still up and operating during the shutdown, as they’ve all been deemed necessary businesses by Gov. Tom Wolf.

Websites and resources do exist specifically for COVID-19 specific responses to abuse, and may be easier than calling for victims, as many have quick “ESCAPE” buttons to leave the site if an abuser is nearby or enters the room.