Domestic violence victims trapped by pandemic shutdown

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ABC27 is taking a closer look at an unintended consequence of the pandemic shutdown. New data just came out on the number of Pennsylvanians seeking relief from domestic violence. It went down significantly in the second quarter and experts say, that’s not good.

Cherie Faus-Smith is a successful Midstate author and speaker. She is also a survivor of domestic violence and says, “When you’re with an abuser and they’re stuck 24/7, there’s no break.” As a young woman, she was a victim at the hands of her now ex-husband.

She worried during the shutdown about victims trapped at home with their abusers, unable to get away, and get help. She says abusers exert control by constantly checking their victim’s cell phone to find out who they’re talking to.

That appears to be what happened during the shutdown. Newly-released state numbers show that in the last quarter, 28% fewer adults and 42% fewer children sought help.

Faus-Smith says the shutdown must have been extremely scary for victims, who already walk on eggshells at home.

Julie Bancroft, with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, says, “Abusers are incredibly skilled at exerting power and control over their victims.” She’s not surprised by the numbers. In fact, she says, “It’s kind of what we expected.”

As counties began to reopen, the calls to hotlines returned. In Dauphin County, for example, the YWCA’s Violence Intervention Program saw 66 people in April. By June, that almost doubled to 130.

What are the signs friends and family can look out for? Bancroft says emotional abuse and total financial control take place in 99% of domestic violence cases, and are often precursors to physical abuse. “There are some telltale signs to look out for if you suspect someone might be experiencing domestic violence and that’s things like someone who is typically social or outgoing suddenly withdraws from their social group.”

In addition, victims may wear clothing that is out of season to hide cuts and bruises. They may start taking more time off from work. They may stay inside, seeing neighbors less often.

Here are other signs your loved one or friend may be in trouble:

  • is isolated from family and friends
  • is regularly belittled by partner, even in public
  • is almost totally controlled by partner, even down to the victim’s daily wardrobe
  • is blamed for the abuse
  • is wrongly accused of having an affair

Bancroft says the first question people often ask is, “Well, why doesn’t the person just leave the abusive situation? The answer is, it’s just not that simple”. Sometimes, leaving is more dangerous than staying.

Thankfully for Cherie Faus-Smith, she got out. Her ex-husband then stalked her, but he eventually disappeared. Today, she works to prevent other women from going down her path, “The biggest thing I tell young girls is you need to know your worth.” Cherie is now happily remarried.

Here’s the National Domestic Violence Hotline you can call for help right now: 1-800-799-7233.

Here’s the website for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence: pcadv.org

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