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Reports Of Domestic Violence Rise In Recent Weeks Amid Coronavirus Lockdowns


Millions of Americans and much of the country have been under stay-at-home orders for a month to limit the spread of the coronavirus. It's ideal for nobody. And for some people, it's terrifying and dangerous. It means being locked down with somebody who beats and abuses them. Reports of domestic violence have risen in recent weeks.

Suzanne Dubus is CEO of the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center, which is just north of Boston. Thanks very much for being with us.

SUZANNE DUBUS: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: You closed your center down and began to do remote work, I gather, in the middle of March. Are you able to hear from victims of domestic violence? What do they say?

DUBUS: Yeah. It was a scary time to shut down because we knew that survivors were really struggling with the issues of abuse already. And to feel that we were closing off some resources was really painful, but we also knew that we needed to do this. And what we found was during the first couple of weeks, actually, people weren't contacting us. And it really felt like - all of us - that people were just trying to figure out what does this mean for my life? How do I get situated? How am I dealing with kids being home all the time? But we assumed that once that happened that we would start to hear from survivors again, and that has happened.

SIMON: Was that two weeks of silence kind of a bad sign that people were trying to live with the abuse?

DUBUS: Yes. Well, survivors have started to kind of come back to us at the same levels that they were before. So they're attending support groups. They're calling the hotlines. They're meeting with their advocates, their counselors, their lawyers. While that's happening, the number of new clients reaching out to us is much smaller than it has been. And when they are reaching out, the domestic violence has been escalating or they are in really kind of severe states of trauma and stress and fear. And so it takes a lot to try to figure out what's the next best step.

SIMON: I mean, I'm trying to account for all the factors that could aggravate this. You have stress at high levels. You have job loss. You have the fact that some abusers must think there's less chance that they'll get caught. The people who are victims of abuse aren't seeing their friends and able to talk outside the home.

DUBUS: You're absolutely right. And domestic violence is predicated on power and control. So when the abuser uses controlling tactics to have power in the relationship, to mete out abuse, then coronavirus becomes a tactic. And so they can keep children. So rather than return children after supervised visitation or a weekend at Dad's house, they can say, you know what? I don't think your mom's doing a good enough job social distancing. And when I saw her, she wasn't wearing a mask, so you're not going to go home. And, you know, that's one way that abusers can continue to, I think, take advantage of an already stressful situation to gain even more control.

SIMON: Ms. Dubus, I'm told this is something you know firsthand.

DUBUS: Yes, yes. When I was married, we lived on the top of this mountaintop in this seasonal community. And my husband would, you know, abuse me and then take the car and drive and leave me alone with no phone in the top of this mountain and so afraid of everything around me. And I was thinking, I can understand what people are feeling like who are trapped at home right now.

SIMON: Something you can say to them?

DUBUS: Yes, that they're not alone. And I think that, you know, one of the things that's probably most important for survivors and victims who are living at home with their abusers to know is that they can find a way. So whether they're taking a shower, are able to go to the grocery store or to the drugstore and quickly connect with a friend. And also, if you're a friend who has someone that you're worried about in your life, then see if there's any way that you can extend yourself so that they know if things get worse that you're a person that can be contacted.

SIMON: Suzanne Dubus is the CEO of the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center near Boston. Thank you so much for being with us.

DUBUS: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.