SURVIVOR LEGAL NEWS #2
Sexual Violence in the time of COVID-19
When safer at home doesn’t apply to everyone
This blog is dedicated to the brave survivors of intimate partner violence, sexual abuse, childhood trauma and human trafficking. We will be covering legal news concerning victim’s rights and remedies.
As COVID-19 cases rose in the United States in March 2020, stay-at-home orders were put in place. schools closed and many workers were furloughed, laid off or ordered to work from home. With everyone’s movements limited and people confined to their homes, advocates for sexual violence survivors expressed concern about potential increase in interpersonal violence i.e. domestic violence. Stay-at-home orders intended to protect the public and prevent widespread infection left many potential victims trapped with their abusers. Domestic violence hotlines prepared for an increase in demand for services as state to enforce these mandates, but many organizations experience the opposite. In some regions of the country the number of calls dropped precipitously. Experts in the field knew that the rates of domestic violence, interpersonal violence had not decreased but rather that victims were unable to safely connect with services.
These numbers trouble Erin Pollitt, Executive Director of the District of Columbia Forensic Nurse Examiners. Since the outbreak, while the crime rate has fallen in many American cities and like other forensic nurses and healthcare providers Pollitt fears that the virus is preventing sexual violence survivors from coming forward to seek medical care and have physical evidence collected.
One in six American women have experienced rape or attempted rape in her lifetime, as has one in 33 men according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN). Eight out of 10 rapes are perpetrated by someone the victim knows says the group, citing the Justice Bureau statistics. The 2018 survey of households found that out of 100 incidents of sexual violence 77 were never reported to the police.
The public health restrictions put in place to combat the spread of the virus have also reduced access to alternative sources of housing; shelters and hotels have reduced capacity or shut down, and traveler’s directions have limited peoples access to safe havens. Shelters have made valiant efforts to ease crowding and to help residents move into hotels, extended-stay apartments, or the homes of family members and friends. Jennifer Pierce-Weeks, CEO of the International Association of Forensic Nurses, says regardless of when the assault happens, victims should try to still come forward. She notes the recommended timeframe for evidence collection of the victim is an adolescent or adult is 120 hours, or five days, in child abuse cases it’s 72 hours or three days.
Maria Biota, Director of Advocacy Services for the Chicago Rape Crisis Center Resilience, says the virus could impact victims who may delay going to the hospital because they have other significant priorities during the crisis, including coping with a job loss, and struggling to make the rent. Those priorities coupled with a complex, conflicting message about avoiding the hospital make for an overwhelmed healthcare system.
Now that we are in a second serious phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, there may be some hope for advocacy communities, in that they have been attempting to ensure access to services through the Internet. Perhaps access could be expanded by means of a subsidy program mirroring the federal community patients commission lifeline program, or continue to create access points in public places. Such approaches would not only enable wider access to telehealth, but would permit people who have experienced sexual or other forms of violence at home to search for resources and maintain their critical social connections.
Technology safety and privacy: a toolkit for survivors
There are a number of resources that contain safety tips, information and privacy strategies for survivors on the use of technology. If you are concerned about reaching out for help there are number of resources about seeking help online: considerations for survivors to talk to someone who can answer your questions and support you, call the following hotlines: https://www.nsvrc.org/
National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800. 799. 7233, or by online chat.
National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.4673, or by online chat.
National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 888.373.7888, or by text line
If you think someone is monitoring your devices, visit this website from a computer, tablet, or smartphone that isn’t being monitored. When you exit from the website be sure to delete it from your browsing history.
I am an active member of the National Crime Victim Bar Association. My professional experience began as a Registered Nurse in the Intensive Care Unit at Yale New Haven Hospital. While pursuing my Bachelor’s Degree, I was a counselor with the New Haven Rape Crisis Program, which was located in the Yale New Haven Hospital Emergency Department. I had the privilege of counseling sexual assault survivors and performed seminars for local police departments, universities, and high schools. My work with the Rape Crisis program led me to attend law school. During the course of my career, I have acted as Pro Bono Counsel for Rape Crisis Programs and have practiced law in several different State and Federal Courts. I am a member of the Palm Beach County Sober Home Task Force and Pro Bono Counsel for the Florida Association of Recovery Residences.
I am also a survivor.