HOW TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF WHEN LIVING WITH ABUSE DURING A PANDEMIC
Disclaimer: The topic of abuse and violence is complex and can be different for each person or family. It can also be affected by different aspects of your identity, such as your ethnic group and gender. This article offers some ideas and advice but may not show or represent all your experiences or what has been helpful for you. We will continue to add articles and information to our website on how to deal with abuse and violence.
To try to stop the spread of COVID-19, government and health experts around the world have asked people to stay at home. This has helped to lower the number of cases, but it has also had some unintended consequences.
One of these consequences is the rise in physical abuse and domestic violence. Battered Women’s Services helps people experiencing domestic violence in British Columbia. They noted that there has been a 300 percent increase in demand for their services.
It is extremely difficult to stay in a physical space when you are experiencing abuse or witnessing a loved one being abused. The abuse may have started during the pandemic or been happening for years. We wanted to put together a list of ideas and resources to help you navigate these difficult times, and take some of the burden off you.
How Can Abuse Look Different During COVID-19?
Even when it’s important to practice physical distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it may not be safe for everyone to stay at home.
If you live in an abusive household, the pandemic may have made your situation worse. Not only are you forced to stay at home, but these days it may be harder to reach out to friends, a therapist or supportive adults. And it may also be more difficult to leave family or your partner to go somewhere safe.
There are many different types of abuse. If you’d like to learn about some of those types, you can click here. But abuse during COVID-19 can look different. Someone who is abusing you might:
- Give you false information about COVID – 19 to control or frighten you. This may stop you from trying to get medical help if you have symptoms
- Try to isolate you from others more – they may try to control or monitor all your communication with anyone outside of the household
- Keep necessary items (such as hand sanitizer or disinfectants) away from you.
- Threaten violence if you leave
- Be emotionally abusive and try to convince you that others won’t help you
But, there are many resources available in spite of COVID-19.
You may be experiencing abuse that is physical, emotional, sexual or verbal. You might be frightened about the safety and well-being of other family members. You may worry that reaching out might make the situation worse and more dangerous. It can be isolating and frightening to experience and witness abuse. But remember that you’re not alone. There are many support services available just for you.
If you can, connect with family, friends, or neighbours over phone, text, or social media. They can offer suggestions and remind you that you don’t have to fight the battle alone.
There are also many services and resources you can reach out to for support or information. Who you want to contact and when will depend on your experiences and what you feel the most comfortable with. For a full list of services available, click here.
It may not be easy or safe for you to contact these organizations by phone. In that case, it could be helpful to use other methods, such as email, text, or even going to a neighbour’s house to borrow the phone. (Just remember, if you use someone else’s phone, it’s important to maintain COVID-19 protocols of sanitization.)
It takes a lot of courage to reach out for support. And it I may take longer than normal to get help, because larger numbers of people are reaching out for support. But even if the wait time is longer, it’s important to know that these services are very honoured to be there by your side and they want to be available to you.
If at any point you are in immediate danger, you can call 9-1-1 and say you need the police or paramedics. For example, call if you are fearful for your own safety or someone else’s safety or if someone is making threats or becoming violent.
Every household is different and abuse or violence can look different for each household. The type of abuse, and the severity, and frequency may vary too. We want you to know that it is normal if you need to call 9-1-1 on multiple occasions. It is also okay to connect with several resources or organizations (perhaps at different times) to have your needs and challenges heard and dealt with, and met. It’s important to realize that in many cases it takes time to figure out how to escape the abuse. It can take multiple safety plans and attempts to leave. And it’s quite normal to go back to your abuser(s). Dealing with abuse can be quite messy, but remember that there is hope and resources out there to help you all through the process
VictimLinkBC is a great service for anyone experiencing abuse and needing support.
Their telephone service is free, confidential and available 24/7 across BC. It offers information and referral services to all survivors of crime. They can also provide immediate crisis support to survivors of family and sexual violence. They provide services in more than 110 languages, including 17 Indigenous (including First Nations, Métis, and Inuit) languages.
They can be reached in many ways, including:
- Phone: 1-800-563-0808
- Call TTY at 604-875-0885 if you are hard of hearing or speech impaired please call the Telus Relay Service at 711. (TTY is a text typewriting service)
- Text: 604-836-6381
- Email: VictimLinkBC@bc211.ca
Making a Safety Plan during a pandemic
If someone you live with is doing anything to hurt you, it’s most important that you keep yourself safe. This can be easier if you set up a support system and a safety plan.
A safety plan will help guide you if you need to leave the space you are in because it has become unsafe. This plan may change as your circumstances and the supports that are available change (especially in the context of COVID-19).
A safety plan is a plan that includes ways for you to try to keep safe:
- While you’re at home
- If you are planning to leave
- After you leave
It’s important to recognize that it’s completely normal to take some time to make a safety plan that you feel the safest and most comfortable with. No one’s safety plan will be alike, especially since everyone’s situation will affect their plan.
If you feel comfortable, it can be helpful to speak with a trusted adult. That person can help you connect with a support worker or help you develop a safety plan.
During COVID-19 it’s important to keep in mind that:
- There may be limited spots at shelters and transition homes, so it could be helpful to call ahead and ask. If you can’t go to a shelter, try to think about other safe places to go such as staying with family or friends, staying in motels, or sleeping in your vehicle.
- If you are going to take public transport to get to a safe place – it can be helpful to plan out the trip and look at the price and schedules for transit. To make it easier, you could use the BC transit app, social media or website for updates (Also make sure to wash your hands regularly, avoid touching your face, try not to touch surfaces that other people have had contact with)
There is support available to help you cope with what is happening. It can be difficult and intimidating to reach out, and it can be helpful to have a safety plan to help keep you and the people around you safe.
Taking Care of Yourself
The most important thing is to prioritize and take care of your health and wellbeing.
If you can’t safely leave, taking care of yourself can sometimes help you cope with what you are experiencing. It’s important to be very gentle and easy with yourself. Self-care can look different for everyone based on their needs and what is available to them.
It’s extremely important to cover your basic needs. Did you eat or drink enough water today? Did you get enough sleep? You don’t have to think about these needs all at once; this might be overwhelming. To ease some of the anxiety, it can be helpful to create a to-do list. Every day, try to do one activity that takes care of a basic need and then check it off your list. That can help you recognize the strength it takes to accomplish them all.
After you take care of basic needs, think about activities that you might enjoy. What have you enjoyed before but not done in a while? Sometimes a little fun can distract you for awhile from what is going on around you. Some examples include:
- Reading a book
- Arts & crafts
- Watching your favourite show/movie, or playing a video game
- Taking a bath
Supporting someone who is being abused
If someone tells you they are being abused, it’s important to support them and recognize the courage and strength it took for them to reach out.
Support for someone who is being abused can look different for each person, it’s important that you meet the person where they are at. Listen carefully to them and remind them it isn’t their fault. Help them find resources that are realistic for their circumstances. If the abuse is taking place where you are living, it’s important to consider your own safety, even though it may be hard to do so. Some things you can do to help support others:
- Look for warning signs. Sometimes abuse may not be obvious. See this resource for different warning signs to look out for.
- Help them with their safety plan. Agree on a code word or common phrase that they can use to communicate when they need help. You can use words like “gardening,” “watermelon,” or “I like mac n cheese.” It’s important to use common words, so the abuser isn’t able to identify the safe word or words.
- They may also ask you to hold onto an emergency bag or important papers or ID (passport, birth certificate, ID cards).
- Encourage them to speak with someone who can help. Offer to help them find a local anti-violence agency. Offer to go with them to the agency, the hospital, or the police, even if you can’t go inside with them because of physical distancing.
- The situation they are in can be complex, and they may not be able to leave. So it’s important to support them unconditionally, even if you don’t understand or know about the depth of what they’re experiencing.
- Encourage them to do things that don’t include the relationship with the abuser. This may be a hobby or going for walks on their own in the neighbourhood.
- If they are able to leave, continue to offer help. Even if they leave the situation physically, it is likely they are still experiencing a great amount of trauma from the abuse and feeling lonely and lost. They may need help getting services from agencies or community groups, so continue to check-in on them regularly.
You are not alone
We are all living in a time that can be overwhelming with all of the uncertainty and difficulty that physical distancing has brought upon everyone.
It can be hard to be stuck at home for many reasons. But remember that your safety is most important. And don’t forget that there isn’t one perfect way to take care of yourself. Everyone is different and so everyone’s way of taking care of themselves is also different. You may feel discouraged if certain things don’t work out the way you expected, but it’s important to maintain hope and keep going in spite of the roadblocks that might be in your way. You are strong and courageous, and you are not alone!
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