By Amanda Miller, REACH Intern
The holidays can bring on added stress for so many of us, and now that everyone is experiencing the holidays during the COVID-19 pandemic, those feelings can be felt more intensely. As we continue to physically distance from one another, the holidays can bring even more added stressors and barriers for survivors experiencing domestic violence.
In a time of isolation
Abuse thrives in isolation and COVID-19 restrictions have resulted in increased rates of domestic violence. Lockdowns, curfews, and working from home have isolated survivors, often times with their abusers at home. Isolation tactics may go unnoticed during this time when the separation we are all experiencing is normalized, accepted, and encouraged. This can make it difficult for survivors to feel safe enough to reach out for support or identify their experience as abuse.
Most of us are living in a virtual world, which can be an opportunity for abusers to gain and maintain control over their partner. Abusers may use tactics such as checking emails, forcing to be a part of Zoom calls, answering cellphone calls, and listening to private conversations. If you’re planning on doing Zoom calls for the holidays, be mindful that there may be someone in your life experiencing abuse.
How to support a family member/ friend
Keep in touch
As many of us remain physically distant from our schools, work, and family members/friends, it’s important to maintain connection. We know that abuse thrives in isolation and reaching out to a loved one and checking in can help a survivor feel supported, especially during the holiday season. Connection can be a powerful antidote to abuse, but it’s important to honor the expertise of each survivor when determining the best way to reach out. Many abusers are using technology as a way of gaining and maintaining power and control. Asking a loved one how they feel most comfortable reaching out or connecting can be helpful. I love to check in with my friends via FaceTime while on walks, or use a platform called Gather where I can meet with friends on video, like Zoom, while simultaneously being met in a “virtual world.” It also looks like a really fun game which can help create safety if you’re talking with a loved one via video chat.
One of the most challenging things for friends and family to recognize is that abuse often happens behind closed doors and is shrouded in secrecy. While on the outside, relationships can look healthy and safe, survivors may be experiencing a different reality than we perceive. Pre- pandemic, we were able to connect with our loved ones in person, offering an opportunity for survivors to seek support. During this COVID-19 holiday season, we are less likely to see the people we love in person. If a loved one makes the courageous choice to disclose to you, it’s important that you listen to and believe them. It takes incredible vulnerability and trust for a survivor to share their experience. It can also be hard to hear about a loved one’s experience. Our first instinct is often to try to fix the situation, and while that response is normal, REACH has written blogs about how this response can have the opposite impact than we had hoped. If someone you care about is asking for advice, providing options rather than telling them what to do can be a great way to ensure the survivor is in control of the process and their choices.
Creating a safety plan with a loved one during this COVID-19 holiday season can be really helpful for a survivor. Asking a loved one where they feel safest or if there is someone that they feel comfortable reaching out to in times of escalation can help ground them in feeling like they have options. A safety plan is individualized and specific, so it’s important to ensure the survivor is in control of how they navigate their safety. When I work the online chat for REACH, I try to ask open ended questions when navigating someone’s safety. Some options can include asking how comfortable they feel calling someone when they feel unsafe, or would they be able to go for a walk or stay in a room inside their home that is away from their abuser. Safety planning can sometimes be a simple conversation between friends, but situations can become nuanced which is why sharing information about REACH and other resources is so important.
In addition to our individual advocacy services, REACH offers a 24/7 hotline (800.899.4000). Offering these resources can be crucial to a survivor’s safety. REACH advocates are available to listen — if a survivor is feeling nervous about a situation or if a survivor is in need of intensive support. The online chat can also be helpful for family/friends navigating how to support a loved one. Check out our 2018 blog post for more tips on how to support survivors during the holidays.
Take Care of Yourself
If you’re someone who is supporting a survivor of domestic violence, it’s crucial to take care of yourself as well. At REACH, we emphasize self-care because this topic is so heavy. I always try to remember that if I’m not taking care of myself, I’m not the most effective at trying to take care of the people I love. It’s important to remember that self-care looks different for everyone. Taking care of yourself can also mean recognizing how supporting your loved one is impacting you. I love to go for a drive and listen to music, do some yoga from home, or play with my dogs. It helps me feel grounded and recharged, making me a better support system for the people I love.
We have all experienced a collective struggle with COVID-19 in a number of ways. For many of us, this year has taught us resilience and strength, but for some it has been an ongoing challenge. Despite this year looking different for a lot of us, I hope you all have a safe and healthy holiday and New Year!