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Tips to Prevent Domestic Violence during the COVID-19 Crisis

Domestic violence can happen to anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion or gender identity. It may be physical, sexual, emotional, or include threats of actions that influence another person. It occurs when one person in a relationship wants to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.

During the current COVID-19 crisis, when many people are being asked to stay home to help contain the spread of the virus, these concerns can be heightened.

“As some of our therapeutic services have switched to using video and telephone connection, we must be cognizant that for our clients who are in domestic violence situation, this will pose challenges and possibly present danger,” said Becky Stoll, Centerstone Vice President of Crisis & Disaster Management. “During this time, where clients are no longer coming into the safety of one of our locations, we need to be extra cautious in our interactions with them.”

Tips for using telehealth sessions

Heather Kamper, LCSW, an outpatient therapist at Centerstone, offers the following tips related to domestic violence for both therapists and clients to consider when they’re setting up telehealth (video or phone) sessions:

  • TIMING/LOCATION: Consider scheduling the session when the abuser will not be in the same building. If this can’t be done (as is true for COVID-19 isolation), talk with the client about finding a private location in the home where the perpetrator cannot hear the conversation without bringing attention to the call (i.e., not hiding in a closet, since that would bring attention).
  • PHONE vs. VIDEO: Consider telephone sessions rather than video, because they can more easily be terminated and information can be deleted if a safety risk should present itself. Video sessions are more complicated and other people are able to overhear both sides of the conversation. Let survivors know that perpetrators are often in places when they may not be aware of, sometimes even using a proxy such as a child or friend.
  • REMOVING EVIDENCE: Talk with the survivor about deleting any history of the phone call or video chat, as well as any texts that were used to establish the sessions. Be sure to also have them delete the software (like Zoom or SnapMD), as well, because this can all be reloaded. Along with deleting phone numbers and texts, also make sure they delete any “deleted messages” categories within the phone.
  • EMERGENCY NUMBERS: Survivors should store phone numbers of their clinician, the local YWCA/shelter and The National Domestic Violence Hotline in the directory under other people’s names instead of their real names. They should come up with names they can easily remember and explain if challenged. Perpetrators often remember who is loaded in the survivor’s phones so toll-free numbers have to match a logical toll-free number like “weather line.” Keep in mind that storing this information can greatly increase the risk, so be sure to talk about whether this would be safe and discuss other options as needed (storing information in a pill container, under a vent, in a sock, etc.).
  • ALIASES: Clinicians should establish a name that can be left on voicemail if needed that would be difficult for the perpetrator to check. Clinicians should also remember to answer any calls they get from the survivor with the same name, in case someone else calls.
  • SAFETY FIRST: Always consider and discuss safety concerns together. The survivor knows their situation the best and – most importantly – they know the perpetrator the best. Take their lead with action steps but discuss your concerns openly.

Along with these tips, therapists and clients need to keep in mind that safety must always come first. This could mean having a back-up story for each aspect of therapy, identifying all possible areas of risk and/or contacting The National Domestic Violence Hotline or the local YMCA shelter to get more information and help.

And, of course, if there are ever any immediate dangers, call 911.

Resources

  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available around the clock and in more than 200 languages: call 1-800-799-SAFE or chat with their advocates here or text LOVEIS to 22522.
  • The Anti-Violence Project offers a 24-hour English/Spanish hotline for LGBTQ+ people experiencing abuse or hate-based violence at (212) 714-1141
  • Military members can locate a victim advocate in their area by calling (800) 342-9647 or going online to militaryonesource.mil.
  • Also, Victoria Zepp, MA, a doctoral psychology intern with Centerstone, suggests two good apps to investigate/download:
    • Victim Notification and Information System (VINE) allows an individual to be alerted when their offender (or anyone currently in jail/prison) is released.
    • Aspire News App looks like a normal news app, but if you go into the “help” section, the user can pre-program their trusted contacts and an “I need help” text message or voicemail. If they are ever in trouble, all they have to do is open the app and tap the green bar at the top of the screen three times. This sends their emergency message/voicemail to their contacts. If they turn on their location within the app, it will also send out their exact coordinates so that someone can call 9-1-1 on their behalf. It also has national and local emergency numbers pre-programmed under the “help” tab.

 

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