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No Coronavirus Disruption in YWCA’s ‘Essential Services’

As violent incidents in homes rise, YWCA advocates find ways to aid victims

Published: May 11, 2020, 6:00am

For many families, the coronavirus stay-at-home order has had an unexpected benefit: Parents and children bonded in ways they never had before. They learned to co-exist in new ways. They grew closer. But not all families sheltering together had that experience.

In homes marked by domestic violence and sexual assault, conditions quickly became far worse for the victims. Suddenly an abused mom could not leave home for a safe haven. A woman or child suffering from sexual assault at the hands of a co-sheltering adult feared going to the hospital for treatment and seeking help from the legal system.

“COVID-19 has been especially unkind to people trapped at home with their abuser,” said De Stewart, an advocate with YWCA Clark County’s Sexual Assault program. “We know that 94% of victims of sexual abuse know their offender. COVID puts many folks, including children and young adults, at risk for intimate partner violence.”

Statistics bear her out. In a recent story from National Public Radio, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network said instances of abuse reported by youth 18 and younger had spiked during the lockdown. Twothirds said their abuser was a family member.

YWCA’s headquarters on Main Street were closed by the pandemic. But its services for those victimized by abusers remain fully operational. As soon as it was apparent a lockdown would force home isolation, YWCA leadership mapped out a strategy for responding to the new conditions. Online staff meetings replaced the weekly gatherings around a table at work. Systems were set up to forward calls immediately to advocates working from home. Safe havens were found to temporarily house survivors. Advocates are on the job around the clock, connecting with victims and survivors by phone calls, text messages, and secure online channels.

The most important outcome of this safety planning: No one was turned away without advocacy and support from a YWCA staffer or trained volunteer. “We really want to emphasize that our services are still in place, that people can get the help they need when they need it,” said Margo Priebe, a Legal Advocacy Specialist with YWCA’s SafeChoice Domestic Violence Program.

Pre-COVID, a YWCA advocate always received a phone call from the hospital when a sexual assault survivor arrived for treatment. The advocate immediately went to the hospital, regardless of the time of day, to listen to, comfort, and help survivors explore their options.

Now fearing the virus, fewer are going to the hospital for forensic exams, Stewart said. “We want people to know that hospitals will take every precaution to protect patients from the virus and that SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners) are still responding to the hospitals for forensic exams.”

For those that do seek help at the hospital, they are connected by phone with an advocate. Advocates continue to provide victims with safety planning, legal advocacy, and a compassionate ear to listen.

Following are essential free and confidential services being provided over the phone for survivors:

  • 24-7 Hotline: This is YWCA’s emergency hotline for those in need of help with domestic violence, sexual assault, and related incidents. Call (360) 695-0501 and you will be connected to an advocate.
  • Domestic Violence walk-in hours: While the headquarters are closed, advocates are focused on handling calls from domestic violence victims from 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. Call (360) 696-0167 and you will be connected to an advocate.
  • Protective Orders: Courts are still issuing POs, and advocates can assist with filling out the forms over the phone. Call (360) 696-0167 and you will be connected to an advocate.

Donations are needed too, as demand from survivors for gas money, food, safe shelter, cell phone bills, and more mount. Visit our website to help keep our most vulnerable safe during this crisis.

As isolation drags on, more calls for help are coming to YWCA personnel. Priebe said she receives eight to ten cries for help each day. “People feel so isolated now that we want them to know there’s a hotline and an advocate always available to help safety plan and to be there for them.

– For Immediate Help –

Call our Hotline: (360) 695-0501

We’re still here 24/7.

If you’re unable to speak safely, you can also email info@ywcaclarkcounty.org.

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