The Star-Herald

Social distancing can have dire consequences for domestic violence victims

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 866-834-4357, TRS 800-787-3224. This free, confidential service is available 24/7 and is accessible from anywhere in Maine.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — During the current period of increased social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, officials at the Hope and Justice Project have been balancing the need to protect the general public with their evolving concerns about clients who might be facing extreme isolation.

The Hope and Justice Project’s main office building in Presque Isle is closed to the public and will remain closed until it knows that opening again will not put clients and staff members in danger of spreading COVID-19. Advocates have connected with clients by phone when it has been safe to do so and through the organization’s general email address and 24-hour crisis hotline.

While the Hope and Justice Project has seen a decrease in recent calls to its hotline, staff members have begun to worry about the potential effects that social isolation can have on clients. 

Although social distancing practices are necessary during a public health emergency, abusers could use the COVID-19 pandemic to increase victims’ fears and further distance them from loved ones and friends.

“Isolation is one of the tactics that an abuser facilitates to maintain power and control over their victim,” said Tammy Albert, director of prevention, education and training for the Hope and Justice Project. “The abuser limits who the victim can reach out to and monitors the victim’s every move.”

Isolation is a common means of control for abusers even in times not related to a public health pandemic, Albert said. But issues that have risen during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as unemployment, economic instability, anxiety and depression, affect domestic violence victims more profoundly. An abuser can use the situation to increase their partner’s feelings of worthlessness and self-doubt and make them fear the consequences of reaching out to others even more. 

Despite the often confusing nature of the current period, Albert wants people in such situations to know that the Hope and Justice Project is there for them and thinking of ways to continue connections.

The organization is still operating its emergency shelters in northern, central and southern Aroostook and has been cleaning those facilities regularly per Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. 

As the COVID-19 situation progresses, Albert said, the staff will continue to monitor the best ways of connecting with clients to ensure their health and safety.

“We continue to provide phone advocacy and are here to support, listen, create safety plans, strategize and give out as much information as possible,” Albert said. “We want anyone affected by domestic violence to know that we are still available to assist them in any way.”

Albert urges anyone who is experiencing or suspects that someone they know might be experiencing a domestic violence situation to contact the Hope and Justice Project through its crisis hotline number, 1-800-439-2323 or email address, info@hopeandjusticeproject.org.

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