‘A petri dish for family violence.’ Austin advocates worry after spike, then drop in abuse calls during pandemic

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A woman recently called into Austin’s Stop Abuse For Everyone, or SAFE hotline to report she was being abused.

She said normally her neighbors will come over and intervene when they hear her being abused.

Now, those neighbors have stopped showing up, afraid of the global coronavirus pandemic.

“That’s the sort of thing that we’re hearing,” said Piper Nelson, SAFE’s chief public strategies officer.

That is, when they hear from folks at all.

After a surge in family violence reports at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Nelson said the number of calls coming in has returned to normal.

“One of our working theories is that people are stuck at home with the people that are using violence, and so it makes it much harder to reach out,” Nelson said. “This pandemic is a petri dish for family violence.”

In addition to people spending much more time at home, that “petri dish” includes compounding stressors like food insecurity, financial issues and homeschooling children.

While Nelson is still encouraging anyone who is a survivor of abuse, or suspects abuse to be happening, to reach out to SAFE, she realized that may not be possible for many people right now.

Instead she said community members are going to need to step up to help out their neighbors at risk.

“Whether that is developing a safety plan with your neighbor and you both take out the garbage at the same time every day, or whether that’s making sure that your kiddos have a safe place to go if things start getting rough in your house,” Nelson said. “Whatever it is, this is a time to work together even more as a community.”

While many of its services including legal, counseling and peer support have moved to working remotely, SAFE wants people to know all its shelters remain open.

If you or someone you know is being abused you can call SAFE 24/7 at 512-267-SAFE (7233) or text 737-888-7233.

You can also chat with someone online by visiting safeaustin.org.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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