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Nationally, the number of domestic violence calls are on a decline, even though the number of cases are on an incline, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sarah Bowen, executive director of The Alpha Omega Center in Slippery Rock, says that as stress increases, violence also increases. This abuse can be between domestic partners or child abuse.
“People are concerned about the economy, their jobs and putting food on the table, and those things can sometimes come out in very unhealthy and violent ways,” Bowen said. “I think the biggest thing to know is that if someone is in the house with a violent partner or if they are concerned about the situation becoming violent, there is help.”
She said crisis shelters are still functioning and that there are mental health institutions and other institutions that can make people feel calmer and help them deal with the emotions they are feeling. One of those crisis shelters is Victim Outreach Intervention Center, better known as VOICe, in Butler County.
“The work we do is absolutely essential to our community; therefore, all of our services remain open and fully operational,” said Maizee Zaccone, a VOICe outreach and volunteer advocate. “However, during this time we have had to make adjustments to ensure the safety and health of our staff and clients.”
Zaccone said VOICe has adapted every service to an online or remote functionality.
“Our shelter continues to operate, but with the current emphasis on social distancing and quarantining, our shelter residents have been relocated to individual hotel rooms and remote facilities,” Zaccone said. “All faculty are currently working remotely from home.”
Bowen said The Alpha Omega Center is also taking those precautions. They are disinfecting as much as possible between clients and their parenting program has moved completely online.
“Our moms and dads don’t have to come in,” Bowen said. “We didn’t want them to have to ride the bus or share rides.”
Zaccone said there is no data to suggest that the numbers are increasing locally, specifically in Butler County.
“While this may be true on a global scale, at this time, we do not have the data to suggest that it is a fact locally,” Zaccone said. “However, current abusive relationships are absolutely more at risk with vulnerability of quarantine orders, and we suggest anyone experiencing a crisis or anyone with questions to call our free, confidential, around-the-clock hotline.”
The hotline is 1.800.400.8551, and Zaccone said calling is the first step they advise because it is the gateway to all other services that VOICe offers.
“The hotline also allows the caller to talk through the situation with a trauma-informed staff member and help the caller determine what safety plan is best to implement for themselves,” Zaccone said.
Bowen said that calling or texting 911 is also always an option. She said texting during an emergency can help if someone feels that people are listening to their conversations.
“You can even call 911 from a phone that does not have a current plan,” Bowen said. “You can also message domestic violence or crisis shelters through Instagram, Facebook and sometimes even Snapchat so that the messages will disappear.”
Zaccone said at the time she is unaware of any online services and that VOICe does not use email.
“We do not provide services across email because of safety issues,” she said. “Emails can easily be found in someone’s system, even after hitting delete. Plus, many people have their email set across multiple devices.”
Zaccone said they always refer people to their hotline to access services. She recommends those who are stuck in quarantine at home in an abusive situation, blocked from technology with no ability to leave, to put some measures in place for themselves.
“We advise everyone, no matter what scenario they are in, to create a thorough safety plan that can be adapted for the situation,” Zaccone said. “For those quarantined at home, this can mean gathering up important documentation, money, clothing, and any vital resources so that if an opportunity to leave safely arises, they can do so.”
She said that calling the hotline is still the safest option, and she only recommends the safely escaping plan to anyone that needs it or is blocked from all technology.
Bowen said that another option if you feel in danger is to remove yourself from the situation and walk down the street.
“Walk down the public street until you come to a police station or a nonprofit that is open and then walk inside and ask for help,” Bowen said.
She also said stress is unavoidable and the stress everyone feels right now is extremely high. She encourages all parents to sign up for Alpha Omega Center’s Parenting Program to avoid losing their temper during this stressful time.
“Even the best parent can lose their temper during this,” Bowen said.
She also said if someone is in a relationship that is abusive, they must understand that it is okay to leave.
“Just because it’s a crisis and because the other person is having a hard time does not mean you have to subject yourself to an unhealthy situation,” Bowen said.
She said even though The Alpha Omega Center isn’t specifically designed to deal with these types of situations, they can make referrals and screen all clients for domestic violence.
“We encourage our clients that if they need to leave and don’t have anywhere to go to give one of us a call, and we will help right away,” Bowen said. “We have even told clients that if we are opened and they feel unsafe they can come straight here and wait until we find the place they can go.”
Bowen’s biggest advice for anyone, whether they are being abused or worried about becoming abusive, is to walk away until they calm down. She said that The Alpha Omega Center is here to help, and another local shelter is the Crisis Shelter of Lawrence County. VOICe is also local to Slippery Rock.
“Men are not excluded in any way from any of our services, nor is anyone of any gender or identity,” Zaccone said. “If you are a survivor of a violent crime, that means you are eligible to pursue our services.”
If you are currently in a domestic violence situation and need help, you can call the domestic violence hotline at 1.800.799.SAFE or call 911. VOICe is also available 24/7 at 1.800.400.8551, or go to womenshelters.org.