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COVID-19 and Keeping Children Safe from Abuse in Their Homes

As COVID-19 has spread in our communities, carrying with it fear, isolation and economic hardship, there has been press attention and grassroots activism around the plight of people in abusive relationships and now even more trapped by shelter-in-place.  It is hard enough for an abuse victim to leave a violent relationship during normal times.  In the middle of a worldwide emergency where the main protection is to stay at home, it’s even harder.  At Tri-Valley Haven and other domestic violence agencies and rape crisis centers, it is welcome news that there has been public recognition of this scary new reality.

However, there is another topic that I have not seen getting the same amount of attention, and that is: What happens to children trapped in shelter-in-place homes, where home itself is not safe due to child abuse or child sexual abuse? Screen Shot 2020-04-27 at 14.04.21

Since April is both Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) and Child Abuse Prevention Month, I thought it would be worthwhile to look for what information might be out there about how children are faring.

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Because of COVID-19, families are having to remain in their homes.  Schools are shut down; so are after-school activities, sports, and pretty much anything else that gets kids out of the house.  Being taken away from daily routines is hard on children and parents alike, but for children who are being abused, it means they have been removed from the eyes of other adults who might be able to spot warning signs.  And while there have been a lot of suggestions on how to educate and entertain kids at home – from online comic books, to home activity packs from companies and organizations, and far more, these activities still happen within the home or yard.  That means that children might still be in homes where they are unsafe, without those hours away at school or in other activities that provide them respite and a chance to disclose what is happening to them.

In houses with domestic violence or sexual abuse, secrecy and isolation are key ways in which the abuser controls the victims of abuse and covers up what is going on inside the house.  Social distancing, while vital for keeping us safer from COVID-19, also can have the side-effect of increasing the cover of darkness under which abuse flourishes.  Child protective services, when called, are usually called by people like teachers, counselors, coaches, and others who can keep a watchful eye on children in distress.  Right now, none of those people have much contact with the children they normally see.  During a pandemic, with everyone experiencing fears over health, safety, job security and food security, as well as combatting isolation and loneliness, families already under stress or at risk for violence can be stretched past the breaking point.

As I searched for information on this topic, I was happy to see that there are several articles out there on the internet that put a spotlight on this issue.  Angelina Jolie wrote an article in Time Magazine this month called “Children Seem to Be Less Vulnerable to the Coronavirus. Here’s How the Pandemic May Still Put Them at Risk.”  In it, she cites the New York Times and other reports about how the pandemic has been fueling a rise in domestic violence incidents worldwide and illuminates the unseen dangers facing vulnerable children at this time.  PBS has also run an excellent article on the topic.

So, as you’re reading this, you might be asking:  What can be done to help?  That is an evolving conversation right now – we are in unprecedented times.  However, there are some things you can do right now!

The Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children has a special COVID-19 section that provides access to information and resources as does the Children’s Bureau.    The Child Helpline Network, another international organization, also has a special coronavirus section.  On a more personal front, if we know families who are suffering from stress due to lockdown, simply checking in with them can be a lifeline and a way of getting insight into what might be going on in the home.  We can educate ourselves on the warning signs of domestic violence and stress.  For parents under emotional strain themselves, there is a good list of resources here.

We can also contribute aid financially to domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers, like Tri-Valley Haven, who are on the front lines of protecting moms and their children from domestic violence, sexual assault, and molestation each day and every day.  Violence does not stop for COVID-19, and neither do we.  We provide safe shelter, counseling, and other assistance this day and every day, no matter what. 

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From the Tri-Valley Haven Family to Yours: 

Be healthy, be safe, and together we build a world without violence!


NSAC Group

Carolyn is the  Advocacy & Communications Specialist  at Tri-Valley Haven.  For more information about how you can support our life-saving services for survivors and families, please call our office at (925) 449-5845 or visit http://www.trivalleyhaven.org  To donate: http://www.trivalleyhaven.org/donate.html

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