Adults and youth are both at risk of domestic abuse, and the current COVID-19 situation raises that risk. Safe places are often school and work, and with these places closed, many victims do not have a safe alternative.
While many SOS employees are working from home, Executive Director Connie Cahoone wants the community to know that the organization is still available to help the community.
“We’re really, very concerned for their safety,” Cahoone said.
All SOS services remain available, including domestic violence/sexual assault services, the domestic violence shelter, child advocacy center interviews and advocacy, CASA volunteers advocating for abused and neglected children and the Child Visitation and Exchange Center’s monitored exchanges and supervised visits. Due to COVID-19, services may be different. The SOS staff takes all necessary precautions when meeting as needed one-on-on, and various telecommunication methods are utilized.
“We’re trying to find a 'new normal,' and a new way to reach people, and a new way to help people,” Cahoone said.
Part of the "new normal" includes online support groups. SOS has also been active in reaching out to schools with lessons for teachers and parents on keeping kids safe.
Cahoone said they are also making sure community members in crisis know how to reach the help they need. The helpline is always open: 800-825-1295 or 343-1870.
Safe, open public spaces such as the grocery store may have phones available for use.
“Sadly we feel like our numbers are down, while the police calls are up 33 percent over 2019,” Cahoone said. “We have not seen that increase in clients as we should, and I think most often that it’s because they’re at home with their abuser and they can’t get away safely.”
From March 22 to this past Wednesday, there have been 92 reports of domestic violence issues. In that same time frame of 2019, there were 65 reports. The majority of people involved in these issues are spouses, but there are also reports of sibling altercations and other juvenile domestic issues. Many domestic violence issues also go unreported.
Emporia Police Sergeant Lisa Sage agrees that being at home with the abuser is “a deterrent for victims to seek services,” she said.
“Everybody is in the same place, and the victim isn’t able to get away from the abuser to be able to go get those services, but it doesn’t take away the emergency when the actual incident happens,” she said, hence the increase in police phone calls.
Sage suggests to those who are concerned for their safety to have household phones charged and accessible at all times in order to call 911 as needed. She also recommends having a plan in mind for escaping abusive situations. SOS can help victims create safety plans unique to them including options for staying safe at home.
Even though it can be intimidating and complicated to leave an abusive home, SOS and the Emporia Police Department want people to know that they are there to help safely navigate the situation every step of the way.
One way to check on neighbors is to safely bring something over to their house. If someone answers, check for bruising or behavior changes.
“Watch out for people that you have not seen at all,” Cahoone said.
Sage said being a good listener and being able to provide information on available resources is something everyone can do to help. It is important to be educated on local resources available for those in abusive situations.
“The more awareness there is, the more that a victim can get the help that they need when they need it,” Sage said.
“If you see something, say something,” she said.
Being in close quarters, even as a neighborhood, together more often, lends itself to exposing more domestic violence issues, as others are hearing and seeing things. Calling those issues in is part of “being a good citizen,” Sage said.
“That’s being what we need, as police, to keep our community safe,” she said. “We need the interaction with our community, to call in things when things aren’t right, whether it’s domestic violence related or not. … I can’t express how important that is.”
Neighbors, friends or family members are also welcome to communicate with the police (by name or anonymously) of possible or certain domestic violence. Local law enforcement officers are still doing welfare checks. They inform people of SOS services as relevant.
“It’s easy to forget sometimes, because people don’t want to get involved or think it isn’t their business, but it is our business to help each other,” Sage said, adding that it's important to remember that domestic violence can happen to anyone.
“Domestic violence can touch anybody and everybody,” she said. “Somebody that you know has been involved in some type of domestic violence situation, whether that be yourself or someone that you know. It touches all of us.”
Reopening SOS for increased in-person services will occur in phases and will be done safely.
SOS is also in the process of getting a new website and a new text line up and running. It also started a YouTube channel: tinyurl.com/yaga6x5h.
As the community keeps an eye on one another, keep in mind May is Foster Care Month. Cahoone said CASA volunteers — court-appointed special advocates — are needed to help children in the foster care system. For more information, visit soskansas.com/casa or email firstname.lastname@example.org.