Domestic Violence Likely to Increase Amid Stay-at-Home Orders, but Help is Available

Originally published in the Memphis Flyer. Read the article by clicking here.

As the pandemic continues and stay-at-home orders remain in place, one advocate said it is “common sense” that domestic violence will heighten.

Deborah Clubb, executive director of the Memphis Area Women’s Council, said most in her field are “very worried” for those in abusive or violent domestic relationships.

Clubb said during these times of “forced at-home isolation,” people are experiencing “unheard of amounts of stress.” This means people are “much more endangered at home.”

The biggest concern during this time, “as people are locked in together day after day, week after week,” Clubb said, is a rise in domestic violence homicides.

“There’s no question at all that terrible things are happening in many households around the community,” Clubb said. “People in a relationship with a power and control dynamic are likely feeling even more out of control and their power is really gone because maybe they are out of work or their routine has changed. People can certainly end up in terrible, lethal circumstances.”

Even people in so-called healthy relationships are at risk, she said, as stress related to money, health, resources, and kids add up.

“Everyone is facing real challenges dealing with emotions like anxiety and anger,” Clubb said. “In this environment, many of us who are not even in bad relationships feel trapped, isolated, and desperate. But, for those who are literally at risk of losing their lives, being verbally and physically and possibly even sexually tortured all day long, this can be beyond a nightmare. But they each need to know there is help.”

Clubb said how one seeks help and relief from domestic violence depends largely on each individual’s circumstance. See a list of agencies and their phone numbers below.

“If they have access to a phone and the opportunity to use it safely without igniting a beating or attack, then there are agencies they can call,” she said. “There are numbers they can call and help can begin.”

On the other hand, Clubb said those who don’t have access to a phone might have to be “pretty clever,” suggesting they go for a walk or to the grocery store to make the call.

“But it’s all way harder now because you’re not going anywhere and he’s not going anywhere,” she said. “I’m thinking for a lot of people the only safe thing to do is to contact the police and involve them. But I know there are some in the community who do not like to do that.”

Clubb notes that when a partner tries to leave a violent or abusive relationship, it can quickly become risky.

“The most dangerous time in one of these relationships is when someone tries to leave,” she said. “So we don’t do it without a lot of thought and planning. You have to do it carefully and with a plan. For example, if your partner has a habit of going to the basement every day at a certain time with a six pack, plan around the moment and use it. Get out, make the call, arrange for someone to come pick you up on the corner. All of this sounds very Hollywood and action movie-like, but this is very serious business. It has to be done smartly and safely.

One thing Clubb said is important for the community to know is that anyone can call the agencies listed above to report suspected domestic violence.

“Each of us can help look out for each of us,” she said. “So I want everyone to know that these agencies are working, and if we know from the kind of contact we are getting or not getting from friends or family members, we can do something. If you hear something or see something, any of us can make these calls.”

There isn’t a dedicated agency or number for those who are the perpetrators in relationships to call when they feel they are on the verge of violence, Clubb said.

“The batterer or the beater, or whatever you want to call them, needs to somehow be convinced and encouraged to take a break to not be so vicious,” she said. “We don’t have a phone number for them though. We don’t have a number for someone to call when they get so angry they want to hurt those around him. Without some way to vent or some form of support, I do expect horrible outcomes.”

However, Clubb said if the aggressor in a relationship calls any of the agencies listed above, they will receive support.

When the pandemic passes, Clubb said there will be lasting traumatic effects for many in abusive relationships. “Many, many people are going to need trauma services coming out of this, and I hope institutions and mental health providers can rise to the call.”

Since the at-home order in Memphis went into effect on March 23rd, there has not been an increase in domestic violence calls, according to the Memphis Police Department. Clubb said the statistics at this point are “irrelevant.”

“The official reports fall far short of people’s lived experiences here,” Clubb said. “We’re not worried about whether or not a certain percentage is up or not. We know that people are in vicious, terrorizing home situations. It’s in every zip code, every faith community, and every neighborhood. It’s everywhere.”

For years Clubb said she has considered domestic violence to be an “epidemic” in Memphis.

“It happens in enormous portions here,” she said. “And as I’ve said, it’s in every neighborhood. It’s not something that’s only happening over there or down there or where people don’t have good families or things like that. Nationally, we talk about one and four attacks being reported. But it’s [happening] much more than that. If we take that number and multiply it by four, then we probably have a vague notion of how often this is happening.”

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