For many, home is not a safe place. It is where their abuser resides and is the place where abuse happens. As COVID-19 has many of us restricted to our homes, women who are victims of domestic abuse are more vulnerable than ever.1 The temporary reprieves these women normally have like going to work, Bible study, or errands are no more. All the while, the rising stresses of living in a COVID-19 world increase tensions in the home. And as many who work with abuse victims feared, there has been a global rise in calls to domestic abuse hotlines.2
Yet while the risks of abuse have increased, the help available to victims has decreased. The systems that would typically be in place to help are not as easy to access now, and shelters are filled or not taking new residents.
These women are also finding themselves isolated from their usual support systems. Friends and family might fear exposure to the coronavirus, so a mother who might typically take refuge with her children at someone else’s home is at a loss. And many women cannot talk freely on the phone or text from their homes because they might be monitored by their abuser. This impacts counseling relationships as well. With face-to-face appointments prohibited, I touch base with some women by phone but do not mention abuse so as not to endanger them further. My heart longs to support them and remind them that God sees them, but I have to be thinking about their safety first.
But though these limitations are significant, there are still ways we can help. For example:
- Be in prayer for women whose homes are not a safe place.
- Check in regularly with those you know. Since communication might be monitored, be creative. Ask the woman to call you the next time she is out for a walk or on her way to the grocery store. Or simply stick to safe subjects. Do not underestimate the value of having a conversation, sharing Scripture, and offering emotional support.
- Friends and church leaders can call the Domestic Abuse Hotline (1-800-799-7233) for a victim and see what resources or education might be available.
- Churches might be able to place these women/children in a hotel if area shelters are full.
- Share this blog so a victim might see it and learn ways to get help.3
If you are a victim of domestic abuse and are reading this blog, here are some things you can do:
- When a fight begins, move to the safest room in the house, preferably one with two exits. The kitchen is the worse place because it has many makeshift weapons like knives.
- During an argument, move away from—not toward—your children. If possible, train your children to find a safe room away from the fight and instruct them how to call 911 if there is an emergency or if someone gets hurt.4
- Keep your cell phone charged and with you. Store the numbers for the police (usually 911) and the Domestic Abuse Hotline (1-800-799-7233) so they are quick to find and ready to use if you need them.
- Try to find time each day to be with the Lord and care for yourself. Perhaps it’s a longer shower, a walk (if possible), time to read, or journal. What are the ways that you can increase your spiritual fortitude in this season? Look for ways to build in exercise or a hobby you enjoy.
- If it’s safe to do so, seek to connect with other people via phone, text, or email. You might not be able to speak about what is happening in your home if you fear being monitored, but staying connected to supportive people can be life-giving.
There are times that I am tempted to despair for victims because, ultimately, I am powerless to stop the abuses perpetrated against them. I, too, must return to Scripture to be reminded of God’s protection and care:
For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will lift me high upon a rock. (Ps 27:5)
This, undoubtedly, is a day of trouble. And my heart is heavy, but I am encouraged when I am reminded that the Lord is the ultimate shelter for these women. He promises his people protection. Of course, this does not mean no harm will come to them, and this is a difficult tension for us to navigate. We rest in the Lord’s promise that we are all ultimately safe in him, but we also know that we are not always physically safe in this world. If anything, COVID-19 is making us all aware of that reality.
For this reality, we lament. But we also have reason to hope. The Lord invites us to ask him for help, and he promises to be our shelter, even when our homes are not safe. There is no shortage of promises in Scripture that show God’s care for the vulnerable. When I remember this, I am deeply encouraged and inspired to help by being God’s hands and feet. And it is my hope that as Christ’s church, we will not forget the vulnerable during this trying time and will learn how to safely minister to them.5
1 I am focusing on women because they suffer from abuse more frequently. “Men and boys are more likely (than women and girls) to be the perpetrators, and women and girls are more likely (than men and boys) to be the victims of IPA [Intimate Partner Abuse]. At the same time, it is necessary to recognize that there are some women and girls who are abusive and violent to their intimate male partners. This is estimated to be in five percent or fewer of the cases.” Source: Joanne Belknap and Heather Melton, “Are Heterosexual Men Also Victims of Intimate Partner Violence?” (March 2005). https://vawnet.org/sites/default/files/materials/files/2016-09/AR_MaleVictims.pdf
2 Amanda Taub, “A New Covid-19 Crisis: Domestic Abuse Rises Worldwide,” New York Times, April 6, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/06/world/coronavirus-domestic-violence.html
3 These same steps and resources are suitable for male victims as well.
4 But be careful what you share with your children or they might mistakenly tell their father, “Mom told me to call 911 if you hurt her.” It is better to talk with them about what to do in any emergency, including when someone is injured. Let them make their own choices about when to implement your instructions.
5 Suggested resources: Domestic Abuse: Recognize, Respond and Rescue by Darby Strickland. Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused (General editor: Brad Hambrick). This is a free training curriculum designed to help church leaders understand and implement best practices for handling the variety of abuse scenarios occurring in churches, schools, or other ministries.