Public health experts say in order to slow the spread of COVID-19, it's essential for people to stay home and stay healthy. But for those living with an abusive partner or family member, the danger inside the home may be as threatening as the risk outside of it.
If you are experiencing domestic or sexual violence or someone you know needs help, you can call the Michigan Sexual Assault hotline at 855-864-2374 (855-VOICES4) or visit the MCEDSV website. The phone number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-7233.
Sarah Prout Rennie is executive director of the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence (MCEDSV). She said counties across the state are seeing an increase in domestic violence calls to law enforcement. Traverse City, Rennie said, has seen a 17% increase while some mid-Michigan counties have seen their number of calls double.
"We hear the word ‘unprecedented’ a lot, but I also would say ‘catastrophic.’ Because you have this, again, this systems problem of folks sheltering all day with their perpetrator," she said. "At the same time, law enforcement and prosecution and shelters are struggling to ensure they’re able to provide normal community responses."
The Coalition represents around 73 shelters and service providers statewide. Rennie said that the shelters she works with are open, but they’ve had to alter some of their usual procedures in order to assist survivors during the pandemic.
“These are normally communal living shelters, so we might have 60 beds normally, but to ensure safety, we only put one family per room, which means you’re reduced to 30 or 40 beds,” she explained. “We’re trying to serve people in hotels and make sure everyone gets served, but as our staff gets sick, that means doing more with less over and over again.”
Rennie said that MCEDSV is urging survivors to create physical or mental safe spaces for themselves if they are able, connect with loved ones for support, and reach out for help however they can. She said that while there is no guarantee that domestic violence shelters are free of COVID-19, “we are as safe as possible. Despite the challenging situation at hand, Rennie said she’s been encouraged by the efforts of “folks who have their boots on the ground” like first responders, shelter staff, and law enforcement.
“The folks I work with…are some of the most heroic people I know. They make $10 an hour, and they’re going in, often without cleaning or protective equipment, to make sure that survivors of domestic and sexual violence have a place to be."