April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and COVID-19 has made sexual violence awareness even more important. As we continue to navigate through these unprecedented times of social distancing and quarantining there has been a new normal that has been created. People have their new daily routines and have uncovered the comfort and safety of their homes as they shield themselves from the outside. However, not every person has that safety at home and often the most vulnerable struggle to find ways to survive the isolation. This month, we are highlighting those whose home may be unsafe due to sexual violence and how COVID-19 is exacerbating an already high-risk issue.
What’s the Problem?
As we all dive into our new routines, the reality of sexual violence continues. Being forced to stay home may be more dangerous for women and men who live in households where sexual violence or abuse is a regular occurrence. For those in abusive relationships, being isolated from families creates an environment where violence can fester and boil over, with no way to escape it for months.
Those that have long suffered abuse and violence may have reached out for help, working with advocates to build safety plans and exit strategies that are now all in limbo. Current times make it nearly impossible to leave, and resources normally available may be shuttered – leaving victims trapped.
Not only is COVID-19 impacting new cases of sexual violence, but also prohibiting survivors from either getting help, or from healing safely. While telemental health care has become the new norm and has extended access to care for many, not all resources are able to move to that format, and support services to help survivors heal from the trauma are not easily accessible or available through a telemental health platform. Trauma from sexual violence lives deep within the body – making it even more important that the survivors have access to care to begin to piece together their bodies and minds that have been impacted by the violence.
It’s easy to assume that sexual violence happens out in the world, late night at bars, in dark alleys, or as we learned from the #MeToo movement – from hierarchal systems fraught with abuse of power. The striking reality is that sexual violence lives amongst us and may live in the homes of people we love without us ever knowing. Sexual violence may have impacted those you care about as they try to find services, or grappling with their continued healing. As COVID-19 keeps us inside, we all can do our part to understand the threat, and as a reminder to reach out to those around you.
What is being done?
States and organizations have been innovative in finding ways to bring support to survivors. They have continued to provide telephonic support 24/7 and have been publicizing resources available to survivors. As governments and organizations continue to adapt to this “new normal,” the potential exists for exciting new on-demand remote resources to come forward – particularly with the much greater utilization of virtual visits.
How can we help?
ERPi is helping prevent sexual violence and to help provide resources to those who are impacted by it. ERPi provides support to the DoD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO). On this contract we are building leadership tools, national webinars and a robust training program to build out a Prevention Workforce within each Service. This work is crucial to the foundation of prevention of sexual assault across DoD. Through Empower Her, we are contributing resources and donations to our community partner that provides services to women impacted by sexual violence.
If we gain anything from this experience it is that we must be creative and flexible with how we provide services to help protect survivors and those at risk of sexual violence. Continuing to be mindful of the warning signs, and making sure resources remain available, will help keep doors open to victims of violence. Staying connected to those in our lives requires a little more work these days, but for some, it can make all the difference. Our friends, family, and loved ones should not suffer in silence.
If you, or someone you know, is experiencing sexual violence, please call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or visit RAINN.org