“A pandemic within a pandemic” – The Argonaut
University of Idaho administrators and local organizations detail the challenges of addressing domestic violence and sexual assault during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For local organizations, as well as the IU campus, the ability to help survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault has been significantly impaired by COVID-19. As resources that were normally available to survivors have been harder to find, if not totally unavailable, the past year and a half has revealed some of the cascading effects of the pandemic that have become incredibly difficult to manage.
âThis is frankly a pandemic within a pandemic when it comes to the lives of survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault,â said Andrea Piper-Wentland, Acting Director of Alternatives to Violence. la Palouse.
As an organization that relies on volunteers, Alternatives Ã la violence de la Palouse has been particularly affected by the job shortages caused by the pandemic. A significant portion of the city’s population left due to COVID-19, and some of the volunteers, who came from the university, were unsure if they could return in the fall. This forced the shelter to rely more on its few employees.
âIn some cases that means I have a staff member who basically works around the clock,â Piper-Wentland said. “They might have worked in the office all night and then took a replacement (neighborhood) to respond to the crisis line where normally it would be a volunteer.”
While final percentages were not yet available, Piper-Wentland said the shelter saw a 21% increase in the number of people seeking help at the start of the pandemic and estimated a total increase of 30%. compared to the previous year.
While increasing demand has in itself been a challenge, Piper-Wentland said part of the difficulty over the past year has been dealing with situations made more complex by COVID-19. Transitions to telehealth have reduced access to counseling and the changing availability among providers of post-sexual assault follow-up care, all factors play into the equation. More broadly, the increased level of isolation made it particularly difficult to emerge from adverse circumstances.
âFor some survivors, they might have had jobs,â Piper-Wentland said. âIt was the time when they were safe, when they were at work. It may not be a thing anymore because of the pandemic. ”
As people were forced in, these escape opportunities became harder to find as more and more people felt trapped in unhealthy relationships.
The resources provided by Alternatives to Violence have also been strained due to the pandemic. Piper-Wentland said the demand for food and clothing, which is provided through donations from the community, has been particularly high. Overall, accommodation has been affected by social distancing restrictions, which have forced the 14-bed shelter to go from being able to accommodate multiple families to just two at a time.
To deal with shrinking shelter capacity, Piper-Wentland said Alternatives to Violence was forced to consider using hotels outside the Moscow region to ensure survivors have access to facilities. safe housing, a solution that only added to the strain on the shelter’s resources. These relocations are funded by emergency financial assistance, which the shelter uses not only to coordinate safe housing arrangements, but also to help fund transportation if needed.
Like Alternatives to Violence, the UI campus has also seen an increase in cases of sexual assault since the start of the pandemic. Despite the presence of COVID-19, however, the university has shown that educational programs can be an integral part of solving the problem of sexual assault and interpersonal violence on campus.
âWe have seen a fairly consistent number of sexual assault cases that we work with people on,â said IU associate director of violence prevention programs Emilie McLarnan.
McLarnan was uncertain whether this increase was the result of COVID-19 or the fact that the campus population was more aware of the reporting mechanisms, as McLarnan noted that the campus security awareness month had been well attended by students this year.
The university’s Green Dot Safety program, which provides spectator response training to students, faculty and staff, also recorded encouraging numbers despite the switch to an online format early in the pandemic. This increased attendance has also coincided with an increase in the number of reports of stalking, which remains a major challenge on campus.
âIn general, we’ve had more reports of stalking on campus over the past year and a half, two years and I think students have a better understanding of the dynamics of this problem,â McLarnan said. âI don’t think this is the result of COVID, I think it’s the students who understand and recognize the science more easily. ”
Royce McCandless can be contacted at [emailÂ protected]