The stay-at-home orders during this pandemic are a nightmare for many victims of family violence. Kelly White is Co-CEO of The SAFE Alliance. She talks with host Judy Maggio about how Covid-19 is impacting the nonprofit’s work providing shelter and counseling services for both adults and children facing abuse and exploitation.
Judy Maggio: Tell us about the response. Have you had an uptick in calls due to this pandemic?
Kelly White: What we immediately noticed, and as I would have expected, is that we had quite a significant uptick in calls in the week immediately prior to the shelter-in-place order, and that was when everybody thought this was coming. And we saw a significant increase. And then as we went into shelter-in-place, those number of calls decreased. And it's not decreased over time. We just went back to where we'd been before. And that's exactly what I would have expected because what we know is that it's very hard to call for help when the person that might be hurting you is right there in the same space with you. So I'm not surprised that that would be our experience.
JM: I guess what we want people to know is that you are open for business. Your services are available right now during this pandemic?
KW: We are continuing to provide essentially all of our services. We've altered them in some ways, for example our counseling programs have gone virtual. We've moved our SAFEline, which is calls, chat and texts. We're operating it from people's homes, but we must continue to provide all of our residential services.
And we operate several shelters, and we have transitional living. We have permanent housing, and this is where people live so we have no choice but, well, we're absolutely committed to doing this work, and we continue. What we're also seeing, though, is that because of Covid-19, we have to create some social distancing. We have to create space for quarantine, and we've had to do things within those existing facilities where we've always had waiting lists. And we've had to actually decrease our census in order to make room for the actions that we need to take to address Covid-19.
JM: So this has really placed a lot of extra burdens on how you provide help to people facing domestic violence and abuse, children and parents?
KW: It's pretty enormous, and we talk about it now as family violence. One of the things that we recognize is violence and abuse doesn't happen in silos. What very quickly I said is, "Oh my gosh, you could throw everything into a petri dish that increases the likelihood of family violence, and that's exactly what's happening now with our response." Yes, we should be sheltering in place, but if you've got a family that's at risk, it's all right there. And we must continue to respond. We're really ramped up and are trying to do so much in the way of prevention, providing support for parents, providing information to teens about how to stay engaged and stay safe, and working with the schools and answering the calls.
JM: What message do you want to deliver to people out there who may be in a situation where they are isolated with someone who is abusing them or exploiting them in some way?
KW: So the most important thing is that if they are in immediate danger, if something is happening to them right now and it's immediate, immediate danger, they still need to call 911. That would always be the response that we give. If you're in immediate danger right now, call 911. If not, then we do have our chat, our text, our hotline that is operational 24/7. And we are responding to calls. We are providing parenting advice. We are providing safety planning. We are doing intakes for shelter. We are doing all the things that we have always done, and we're doing it as compassionately and responsibly as we can.
JM: What about the other side? What about people who might be watching and have come to the other side of being past, a survivor of domestic violence or abuse; how can they help or volunteer in some way?
KW: Well, thank you so much for asking that question because actually one of the things that we're seeing is that people are being triggered. People that have come to the other side are feeling the triggering of the isolation and just what's happening in the world right now, so we are taking those calls as well, and we're responding and talking to those people and providing that support.
JM: Anything else you'd like the community to know about The SAFE Alliance and its mission?
KW: Well, I think that people know about SAFE. What I would hope that everybody recognizes and understands is to treat each other with kindness, and if you do need help, to call our SAFEline. That is our front door and we will be there to provide that support and assistance as much as we are able.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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