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When Home Isn’t Safe: Shelter-in-Place Is Putting Domestic Violence Survivors in a “Dire Situation”

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As schools shut, public spaces close, and all but essential workers are ordered to stay indoors under shelter-in-place orders across the U.S. and globe, domestic violence services are scrambling to help vulnerable people navigate home lives that they say are increasingly unsafe during the pandemic. What happens when you’re trapped at home with your abuser? “This is really a dire situation for a lot of victims across the country,” says Katie Ray-Jones, chief executive officer of the National Domestic Violence Hotline and loveisrespect.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, broadcasting from New York City, now the center of the pandemic in the United States.

Shelter in place? What happens when you’re trapped at home with your abuser? We turn now to look at domestic violence during the pandemic. As schools shut, public spaces close, all but essential workers are ordered to stay indoors, domestic violence services are scrambling to help vulnerable people navigate home lives they say are increasingly unsafe during the pandemic. More than one in three women in the U.S. has experienced rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner, according to a 2010 survey. In 2018, more than half the violent crimes in the U.S. were domestic violence cases.

We end with Katie Ray-Jones, chief executive officer of the National Domestic Violence Hotline and loveisrespect. She’s joining us from Austin, Texas.

Thanks so much for being with us, Katie Ray-Jones. Talk about what you’re experiencing now on the National Domestic Violence Hotline. What are your greatest concerns during this pandemic, where so many are shut in, are locked down in their homes around the country?

KATIE RAY-JONES: Yeah, good morning. Yeah, absolutely. I think you’re speaking very much to the crux of what we’re most concerned with right now. We know that many victims and survivors of domestic violence are currently sheltering in place with their abusive partner, and we have started to hear from many survivors who are explaining to us about how COVID-19 is impacting their relationship, how abuse is beginning to escalate in the home, or how they’re being further isolated from their social networks, their social support systems, employment, financial impact. It’s quite a scary situation for many women across the country.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what are you hearing? What do you tell people? What can you suggest to those who are terrified at home right now? We say the words “shelter in place.” It’s hardly a shelter.

KATIE RAY-JONES: Yeah, I mean, you make a really great point. This is really a dire situation for a lot of victims across the country. What we’ve been hearing is that we have had situations where the survivor is trying to leave, but shelters are currently not doing intakes, or they’re full. They cannot go to their family members or their friends’ houses in fear of exposure. Certainly, if their parents are elderly, they’re not wanting to go and take their children over there. We’re really hearing a lot of scary stories about how one woman was being prevented to go to work. She wasn’t in a community where there was a shelter in place. And her partner brought out a firearm and began to load the firearm as a method to keep her in the home. And she said that had never happened before. This was the first time she had seen something like this escalate. We’ve also heard from women who ended up calling 911, and that when police came out, they said that these were low violent crimes, and they weren’t in a position to detain the abusive partner. And so that’s a scary situation for a lot of survivors.

What we’re really hoping to do right now, recognizing that it is going to be very difficult for a survivor to call a hotline when their perpetrator is sitting right next to them, or to be able to enter into an online chat with an advocate when their abusive partner is watching what they’re doing — there could be serious consequences for a survivor in those situations. So we’re imploring friends, family, neighbors to contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline on behalf of someone else, because you may be their only lifeline to education, safety information, while we’re working through situations where people can’t flee the home.

AMY GOODMAN: And what’s happening to emergency shelters right now for domestic violence victims?

KATIE RAY-JONES: I think we’re seeing an array of different strategies being used, which I think it makes it really difficult for survivors to know what their options are. One, we’re hearing some shelters are still operating and putting in a lot of procedures to keep their current residents safe and healthy. Some are using motels and hotels to be able to place people in emergency situations. But we know many nonprofits, on a good day, are underresourced and don’t have a lot of financial resources to leverage hotels and motels for those expenses. Some are not doing intakes right now, in order to keep their current residents healthy, safe. And some are just at capacity.

So what we’re doing is, as survivors are calling us, we’re working with those local communities to try to place them. We had a pastor who called us yesterday trying to get shelter for a victim and had looked in two different states and wasn’t being successful in finding a location for that individual. So we know that these are really dire. So, unfortunately, we’re doing a lot of safety planning in-place strategies. We’re talking with survivors about, if a fight breaks out, a violent incident breaks out in the home, where’s the safest place to move in the home. Can you take time for yourself, whether it’s a shower, journaling, taking just a quiet moment to be able to gather your strength, recognizing that you are courageous, you’re strong, you’re brave, you’re surviving every day? But there’s not a lot of resources out there right now, Amy, for people to actually get connected to.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you so much, Katie Ray-Jones, for being with us, chief executive officer of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. And the number of that hotline?

KATIE RAY-JONES: 1-800-799-7233, or you can chat at

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much.


AMY GOODMAN: And this word of advice, in protecting the whole community, it is so critical that in order not to wash our hands of all of this, we simply wash our hands. When you see somebody and you’re afraid to step away, because you don’t want them to feel like you’re afraid of them, don’t think of them as the vector of disease. Think of yourself as possibly one who could infect others, because we can’t know at this point. Step away. Be at a safe distance to make the whole community safe. And when you wash your hands, to understand why this is so important, is just simple water and soap. I know for many, it is not even possible to get that water. But if you have access and soap, soap is critical. It is the most important weapon, because the coronavirus — corona is the crown on the virus, which is a lipid, and the soap cuts through that. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. You know how you see doctors on TV shows washing their hands and then putting their arms up? This is the way to do it. Sing “Happy Birthday” twice, if you want to. But you’ve got to scrub those hands. You’ve got to interlace your fingers and scrub. Scrub your fingertips, you know, that touches, oh, everything from buttons to elevator buttons, everything else. Wash the back and the front of your hands. You’re doing it for yourself, you’re doing it for your family, you’re doing it for the whole community to stop community spread. We have to keep each other safe in this very dire time of this pandemic.

That does it for the show. I want to thank the amazing team that makes Democracy Now! happen every day, so many of us working from home in isolation to protect everyone else, and the team that comes in to do this broadcast. And also a belated birthday, happy wishes to Miriam Barnard.

Democracy Now! produced by Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Nermeen Shaikh, Carla Wills, Tami Woronoff, Libby Rainey, Sam Alcoff, John Hamilton, Robby Karran. Special thanks to Julie Crosby. I’m Amy Goodman. Thank you so much.

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