Victims of domestic violence can tap a full array of protective services, including potentially lifesaving legal protections, even with the coronavirus lockdown, District Attorney Ashley Hornsby Welch said this week.
“For some, staying home is not actually safe,” she said. “These are very dangerous times for people in abusive relationships. I want victims to know there are avenues of escape.”
Welch and local anti-domestic violence advocates fear a looming spike in the number and severity of cases – not just involving spouses or partners, but children and senior citizens, too.
Some communities within the 43rd Prosecutorial District that Welch oversees – the state’s seven westernmost counties – are experiencing an uptick in the number of domestic-violence calls received. Call volume, however, isn’t necessarily an accurate indicator of what takes place behind closed doors.
Cecilia Crawford-Faulkner, director of Reach of Cherokee County, an advocacy group that also works in Graham County, shares the district attorney’s concerns about the potentially volatile situations.
There are some victims living with their abusers who likely lack the ability to safely seek help, she said.
“We are trying to reach out any way possible. We want them to know we can get them out, we can help out – they are not stuck,” Crawford-Faulkner said.
To that end, the Murphy-based nonprofit is working with social services, senior Meals on Wheels and the school system. The goal is to try to identify problems in homes, not just hope people will call in.
“There may be a bruise we can see, stress on someone’s face, or even a code word,” Crawford-Faulkner said.
Meanwhile, District Attorney Welch said, the courts continue to hold emergency hearings and issue restraining orders; law enforcement officers continue to answer calls and arrest abusers; prosecutors continue to shepherd domestic-violence cases through the justice system on victims’ behalf.
Gov. Roy Cooper issued a stay-at-home order starting March 30 and continuing through April 29. Residents are allowed to leave home for essential services or to conduct essential business or access government services.
Welch said county, state and national leaders are taking the steps necessary to curb the deadly coronavirus. But, there is a flip side of the coin.
“Stress on households will increase the longer people remain homebound,” Welch said. “There are some individuals who respond to frustrations by drinking. There are those who become aggressive, with emotional abuse escalating into physical abuse.”
Welch said victims could find it difficult to carve out the privacy needed to safely seek help. She urged abuse victims to take precautions when:
• accessing websites about domestic violence.
• sending emails or texts.
• making or receiving phone calls.
Swain/Qualla SAFE Director Lisa Barker said her nonprofit organization is currently experiencing a surge in “continuing clients who are in need of our support services.”
Barker explained that some victims’ plans for financial independence are being derailed or delayed as economic fallout rides sidesaddle to the coronavirus threat.
For victims, seemingly small needs can prove formidable, Barker said.
An example? One SAFE client did not have a way to cook her food. The nonprofit was able to step in and provide her a microwave oven, she said.
To make a financial donation to Reach of Cherokee County, call 837-9631; to Swain/Qualla SAFE, call 488-9038.
Do you need help? Here’s how to get it:
• In an emergency, dial 911.
• For services, advice or just to talk (including anonymously), call the Cherokee County hotline at 837-8064 or the Swain/Qualla hotline at 488-6809.
• If you are a victim of domestic violence with questions about an open case or about legal protection, call the District Attorney’s office at 479-7010 and leave a message. Your call will be returned as promptly as possible.
– Office of District Attorney Ashley Welch release