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What you need to know about domestic violence during the pandemic and how Delaware is responding

Amid the coronavirus pandemic lurks another hidden shadow – unreported domestic violence, and it’s happening more often then you may think.

Wilmington (DE): “Family and domestic violence (including child abuse, intimate partner abuse, and elder abuse) is a common problem in the United States. Family and domestic health violence are estimated to affect 10 million people in the United States every year.”, said Martin R. Huecker from the University of Louisville. “It is a national public health problem, and virtually all healthcare professionals will at some point evaluate or treat a patient who is a victim of some form of domestic or family violence.”

In Delaware, over 3,684 calls are answered annually, 34.9% of Delaware women and 36.7% of Delaware men experience intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner sexual violence and/or intimate partner stalking in their lifetimes. Source

The novel coronavirus pandemic, in addition to its direct impact on people’s health, has unleashed a perfect storm of conditions that may increase the rate of domestic violence. Social isolation, for example, is one of the most common tactics used by abusers to distance survivors from their support networks, and now physical isolation is government-sanctioned.

Unemployment claims are hitting historic highs, as are levels of economic anxiety; both of these circumstances are linked to a higher incidence of domestic violence.

Firearm ownership is tied to a greater chance of domestic homicide, and gun sales in the U.S. rocketed in March, with reports that many of those sales were to first-time gun buyers.

National hotlines even have to devise strategies to combat abusers’ weaponizing COVID-19 itself to terrorize survivors — e.g., threatening to infect someone with COVID-19 or hiding cleaning supplies so the survivor cannot access them.

On average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States — more than 12 million women and men over the course of a year.

Attorney General Kathy Jennings and the Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence announced Monday that more than 100 cell phones with prepaid calls, texts, and data will be made available to Delaware domestic violence survivors as the result of a public-private-nonprofit collaboration between the Delaware Department of Justice, the Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and industry donors.

“You don’t need to stay home if home isn’t safe,” said Attorney General Jennings. “The tragic reality is that while home is the safest place for most of us during this pandemic, the opposite is true for victims of domestic violence or child abuse who feel trapped and silenced by their abusers. Our number one priority is saving lives, and connecting survivors with these cell phones puts a resource in their hands that can help them start to rebuild the life they deserve.”

Prepaid phones offer a measure of privacy, protection, and independence to survivors who may feel economically trapped in an abusive situation because of reliance on an abuser’s phone plan. They also ensure that survivors’ activity—including calls for help—are not reflected in abuser’s monthly cell phone plans and equip survivors with a vital tool as they rebuild their lives.

“DCADV is so grateful to Delaware’s Attorney General, Kathy Jennings, for her advocacy for victims of domestic violence,” Sue Ryan, Executive Director of the Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “The availability of safe phones is a critical resource for connecting victims of domestic violence to supportive services.”

Phones will be distributed throughout the state to victim advocates and made available to victims as needed.

The announcement comes amid a larger set of domestic violence and child abuse awareness campaigns by nonprofits like DCADV and state agencies including the DOJ, the Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families (DSCYF), and the Delaware Courts’ Office of the Child Advocate.

Delaware’s State of Emergency has not interrupted the availability of resources for survivors, including Protection from Abuse court orders; shelter, hotels or other emergency housing; advocates and attorneys to assist petitioners through the Family Court process; and social workers and counselors in a variety of different agencies. The following 24-hour hotlines are also available:

• New Castle County: (302) 762-6110
• Kent & Sussex County: (302) 422-8058
• Español: (302) 745-9874

A complete listing of services is available at dcadv.org. Information on protections through the Courts are available at courts.delaware.gov/family or (302) 255-0300. Police-based Victim Service staff are also available to address the needs of crime victims. More information and phones numbers can be found at dsp.delaware.gov/victim-services.

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