OP-ED: Domestic violence doesn’t take a holiday

Sara Walters
YWCA York logo

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, people have been forced to adapt to a distant, isolated world. Remote learning, working from home, and social distancing have separated us not only from people we love and want to be around, but also from crucial resources, outlets, and services.

Many have suffered tremendously since early March — from layoffs and lost wages to the fear and uncertainty of battling an invisible, viral enemy, many people have found themselves in turmoil worsened by isolation and loss.

Unfortunately for some, factors like isolation and financial strain have contributed to unsafe home environments, with some trapped in quarantine with abusive partners or family members, cut off from outside resources and assistance.

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Many domestic violence victims’ assistance programs like ours at YWCA York have seen an increase in people reaching out for services throughout the pandemic. Between March 16 and May 16 of this year, the National Domestic Violence Hotline reported a 9% increase in total contacts, with 6,210 total contact mentioning Covid-19 specifically.

In total throughout that three-month period, the hotline answered 62,413 phone calls, online chats and texts, 58% of which came directly from victims and survivors reaching out for help.

At YWCA York, we saw a significant uptick in hotline calls and request for services as the first set of stay-at-home orders were lifted, and that increase has continued through the recent weeks and months, especially at our shelters, ACCESS York and Stillwaters (Hanover).

As we move into the winter holiday season, the isolation brought on by inclement and cold weather may be exacerbated by stay-at-home and quarantine orders. Recently, Gov. Tom Wolf issued an order limiting travel to and from the commonwealth, requiring a negative COVID-19 test or a 14-day quarantine upon arriving back in Pennsylvania after traveling outside the state. Although necessary, these limitations and further separation from friends, family, and outside resources may put a deeper strain on victims of domestic violence.

With the holiday season also sometimes comes financial strain, increased alcohol consumption and stress, creating the perfect storm for an increase in incidents of domestic violence.

At YWCA York, we have offered uninterrupted services for victims throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, adapting them where necessary to provide them as safely as possible. As we continue to work together to reduce the spread of COVID-19, we must also work together to prevent and eliminate domestic and sexual violence in our community and beyond. We ask that you check in on your friends and loved ones, especially those whose safety you may be concerned about.

If you are or know a victim of domestic violence, there are resources and help available, even throughout the holidays and through the ongoing pandemic.

Domestic violence does not take a holiday. It does not slow down or stop as the world does, in response to this virus. As you take time to celebrate the year and safely connect with friends and loved ones, remember those whose winter holidays may not be so easy. Reach out however and whenever you can, and remember that none of us are alone in this journey. Contact YWCA York’s hotline 24/7 at 717-846-5400 or 800-262-8444 to speak with an advocate.

— Sara Walters is the community outreach advocate for YWCA York.