Efforts to help domestic violence victims still underway during pandemic

WILLISTON, Vt. (WCAX) In the wake of Vermont's stay-at-home order, law enforcement and domestic violence advocates want those in abusive situations to know they are able to get out and get help.

"We're really coordinating around making sure that everybody knows that we are still are actively responding to incidents, providing support to those who need a safer place to be or a safety plan," says Kate Brayton, the victim services coordinator with the Vermont State Police.

Though Brayton says the number of calls they receive has stayed about the same, that doesn't mean safety issues haven't increased as people are cooped up.

"There were conversations around, 'Will people not call because maybe we're not available or not as resourced for them.' We wanted to make sure that wasn't something somebody was telling themselves," says Brayton.

Law enforcement and state officials are working with community partners to ensure voices are heard, partners like Steps to End Domestic Violence.

Shelters are open, adhering to CDC and state cleaning practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But Steps to End Domestic Violence in Chittenden County has closed its administrative offices and is not admitting anyone else into its shelter. Ana Burke, the group's executive director, says advocates are standing by to take calls on their 24/7 hotline.

"One of the tactics used by abusers to maintain power and control is to socially, physically, or economically isolate someone, so we wanted to ensure that we are still available," Burke said. She says even though it may look and feel a little different than the usual in-person meetings, people can still use the hotline to get safe housing.

State and local partners are also providing vouchers to area hotels for survivors and their children. Burke encourages those who may not have a safe place, to pick up the phone, step outside or into a separate room to make the call. She also suggests alerting a family member who can then relay the message.

Burke says while the situation is challenging, the organization is constantly discussing ways to make resources more available online and via social media.

"We are still here, and we will try to adapt to the situation progresses and try to meet folks where they're at," says Burke.

Resources include the Vermont Domestic and Sexual Violence hotlines and the National Domestic Violence hotline. But if you aren't in a safe space to speak on the phone, you can also log onto thehotline.org or text LOVEIS to 22522.