While Vermonters are being directed to stay home in order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus and the disease it causes, there remain staff and resources available for those who are victims of sexual or domestic violence and those who want to escape an abusive relationships.
Avaloy Lanning, executive director of NewStory Center in Rutland, said there is “a lot going on in the community to work with folks and to mobilize the resources that are available.”
Lanning said all of NewStory’s resources, including court advocacy, sexual assault advocacy, emergency shelter, food pantry and case management services.
“All of those things are still available, they just look a little different than they have in the past,” she said.
Karen Tronsgard-Scott, executive director of the Vermont Network, said, “every single domestic and sexual violence organization is open for business.”
She said organizations like NewStory, which is a member of the Network, were doing a “really remarkable” job of transforming the ways they operate in order to respond to the need to protect staff and clients from exposure to the virus.
Like many organizations, NewStory and other agencies that help victims of domestic and sexual violence are speaking with those who need services over the phone or by electronic means. But sometimes those victims need services like shelters.
Lanning said she doesn’t want anyone to feel there isn’t an avenue of safety still for them because the avenue still exists but “maybe we have to get a little more creative with our exit strategy planning.”
“I do want people who are in abusive relationships, who are thinking about leaving, to know that NewStory and other domestic and sexual violence service providers around the state are still running. We are still here to provide all of the services we’ve always provided and we are still available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There is still emergency housing available. There is still the opportunity to file for a relief from abuse order. There are still opportunities to speak with advocates and plan for safety,” she said.
In a news release, Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan stated it was “important for Vermonters to remember that not every home situation is safe.”
“Self-isolation does not mean that you are alone. Local programs and law enforcement agencies are here to help. I encourage all Vermonters who are worried about having to self-isolate in a dangerous home situation to reach out,” Donovan said in a statement.
Tronsgard-Scott said the organizations were working in collaboration with Vermont state agencies like the health department to be sure they are complying with social-distancing recommendations and the Office of Economic Opportunity to be sure people who need shelter can get it.
Right now, Tronsgard-Scott said, some Vermont communities are experiencing an increase in the request for services, some are seeing a decrease and some aren’t seeing any substantial changes but advocates are expecting increased demand, especially now that the governor has ordered schools to close through the end of the current term.
“We anticipate that we’re going to see a significant increase in the number of calls to the hotline and the need for services This is what’s been happening in Washington state so we think we’re going to follow that pattern here,” she said.
She said the network is convening its member agencies up to five times a week to plan for the expected spike, to share what resources are available and to hear from staff in the field about any needs that can be passed along.
“Everybody from the governor to the president pro tem to the speaker of the House to individuals legislators, everybody’s been asking us, ‘How can we make sure that domestic violence survivors get everything they need?’ So the folks in those positions are really thoughtful and asking the questions of the people like the staff at the NewStory Center,” Tronsgard-Scott said.
Lanning said in Rutland County, groups like the United Way, Project VISION, BROC-Community Action in Southwestern Vermont and the Homeless Prevention Center are working with staff from NewStory on proposing solutions.
Lanning said she and other advocates have concerns about the volatility of families living unexpectedly in confined spaces and facing economic hardship.
“Any added stressor is always a concern and certainly families and household relationships are under a great deal of strain currently that’s not something any of us could have planned for or anticipated. I just hope that (your) readers and the community know that there are safe places for them to go, safe places for people to turn. There is assistance available and ongoing and a lot people in our community that want to help until all of us can get back to some kind of normalcy,” she said.
There are numerous resources available for survivors at the local and national level. They include:
Vermont Network website: vtnetwork.org/covid-19-update.
Vermont Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-228-7395.
Vermont Sexual Violence Hotline: 800-489-7273.
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233.
If you’re unable to speak safely, log onto thehotline.org or text LOVEIS to 22522.
If you are in an emergency situation, call 911.