Don’t ignore your gut instinct.
Have you ever interacted with a couple, only to be left feeling like they probably don’t have a healthy relationship, based on their comments and mannerisms?
Has a loved one ever introduced you to their new partner, and something about them made you feel concerned about what happens behind close doors?
Have you ever suspected your loved one was in an abusive situation, but they have never outright said anything?
Don’t dismiss those feelings.
How to spot abuse during COVID-19
- You notice that your loved one is nervous, dismissive, or irritated when you mention or ask about their partner.
- Your loved one seems distant during conversation and doesn’t want to talk about themselves or their life.
- Your loved one refuses to go on a video chat with you for a certain period of time may be due to wound inflictions or control from the abusive partner.
- If you are video chatting and they seem jumpy or are hyper-aware of their surroundings, it may be an indication of spousal abuse.
- Sudden change of communication patterns (IE not posting on social media as much as they used to, not replying to text messages..)
- There’s an increase in unhealthy daily routines as a method to cope in isolation; IE sleeping too much or not enough, not eating, not bathing, loss of interest in daily activities, substance abuse…
Here are a few things you can do to support someone who may be in isolation with their abuser.
Ask them if they are being abused.
Sounds bold, I know. But think of it this way…
If you know somebody that’s isolated or might be struggling, make sure you ask the question: ‘Are you being abused?’ …They’re more likely to respond if they’re asked, than just to come out (with it) themselves.Megan Walker, Executive Director of the London Abused Women’s Centre
It’s also important to recognize that some people do not realize they are being abused. Ensure they can recognize what actually constitutes as abuse. You can do this by asking the same question several times, in different ways: “Are you being abused?” “Are they hurting you?” “Do you ever feel unsafe in your home?”
To better understand abuse, check out some of our resources:
- What is Abuse?
- Early Warning Signs of Abuse: A Toolkit
- Normal Jealousy or the Start of Abuse?
- Red Flags: Who is a ‘Typical Abuser?’
- Understanding the Deadly Cycle of Abuse
- Take a Deep Dive: Third-Party Online Resources
What if they say no?
It’s better to receive a “no” and have the awkward interaction, than to not mention it at all. Even if their answer is true and your loved one isn’t being abused, it’s better to embarrass the potential abuser (if they found out you’ve asked their partner that question), than to regret not taking action earlier, if something bad were to happen.
How to support someone who is potentially being abused.
Whether you aren’t ready to out-right ask them the question, or you aren’t totally convinced with their “no”, here are some things you can do to support someone who may be isolated with an abuser during this time:Read more.
- Make a point to phone or message your loved one atleast once a week, to check in and see if they need anything at all; emotional support, something from the grocery store, a mask/gloves/sanitizer.. These are items that an abuser may withhold from your loved one, in order to exert more control over them during a pandemic.
- Never let the potential abuser know you are onto them and do not confront them.
- Be on stand-by. Let your loved one know that your question was from a place of care and concern, and that they can reach out by text or phone at any time of the day or night.
- Your loved one may not have an opportunity to look through our resources, if an abuser is overbearing or withholding access to the Internet. If your loved one calls you in crisis, they may be going through too much trauma to get the correct help they need, themselves. Therefore, take it upon yourself to look through our COVID-19 local directory and know what help exists. Whether you write it down somewhere or put a note in your phone, have a few emergency numbers handy, like Iris Kirby House or these provincial help-lines.
- If you notice a difference in their interactions (IE not posting on social media, not answering texts), reach out immediately.
If you don’t hear back, try reaching out to a mutual friend or one of their family members, to see if they’ve heard from them. Don’t try to instil panic in anybody else just yet; simply say you have been having trouble trying to reach them.
You could casually drop a container of cookies off on the couple’s doorstep, knock on the door and step 6 feet back, just to give a friendly hello to whoever answers the door. Unless they are an essential worker, they should be home most of the time during a pandemic. Request a wellness check, if you are seriously concerned.
- This also applies to neighbours. It’s amazing what we inadvertently learn about our neighbours based on their pre-pandemic routines and pass-by hello’s. Sometimes you can pick up on family’s and couple’s relationship dynamics, by having these short glimpses into their daily lives. Perhaps your walls are a little too thin or houses are close together, and you hear their arguments.
Even though we are all doing out best to stay home, people still have to go outside to put out the garbage, go to a store, they’re looking out windows, going for walks, checking mail, and so forth. If you see a huge downturn in activity from a specific house, make up a reason to knock on their door, then step back six feet to see what happens. Request a wellness check, if you you witness anything.
- If you fear that your neighbour is being abused by their partner, make a point to go over and talk to the potentially abused neighbour in the moments that they are alone; if you see them walking, getting their mail, tending to their garden, and so on. Remain socially distanced, but still try to have the conversation discretely. Grab any opportunity you can to ask them how they are doing and to never hesitate to reach out about anything. Make sure they have your phone number. Keep lines of communication open because at the very least; you may be the only good interaction they have that day.
- If you notice something concerning or they share any information with you, screenshot the evidence or make a note in your phone and date the interaction. If things escalate or you end up getting a court subpoena, then you will be prepared to support your loved one with this information.
- The pandemic ‘s quarantine and social distancing measures may have been the reason some people built up the courage to leave their abusive partners. If you notice strange any person or vehicles passing by, or passing by frequently, be sure to alert your neighbour of the potential stalking, or do something as simple as waving or nodding at the potential stalker as they pass, so they know somebody is aware of their presence.
- Be prepared for the worst case scenario. If you live in St. John’s, a professional or enforcement may be able to support you, quickly. However, if you are in a more rural part of NL, you may not have access to emergency services for atleast 20 minutes.
If worst comes to worst and you have exhausted your emergency numbers, keep 9-1-1 on the line the entire time, and follow their directions. If you come within 6 feet of the victim, it will very well be worth it to save their life from immediate danger, but ensure you have your gloves and mask, then remove your clothes and thoroughly cleanse yourself and your space afterwards to protect yourself. COVID-19 is still a threat and we need to respect social distancing measures as much as possible.
- Most importantly, if things escalate: Do not put yourself in danger. Leave as much as you can to professionals. If letting the victim in your home to avoid being hurt or killed is your last option, or removing the children from the home while things are going down is something you need to do; that is one thing. But never, under any circumstance, put yourself in front of the abuser.
- Make sure your car has gas in the tank, in case you are in a dire situation that requires you to leave the scene right away. Go straight to a police station or hospital.
Keep in mind…
- Indigenous women are up to three times more likely to be abused by their partner, versus the general population.
- LGBTQ individuals may not be believed when they disclose their situation.
- Newcomers may not have access to resources or know their rights.
- Some people may try to downplay or attribute abusive behaviour to honouring cultural and cultural differences.
It’s important to repeat that there is no right or wrong way to approach these kinds of situations, especially in a pandemic. Above all us, stay safe. Hopefully some of these tips will help you and a loved one, should you end up in this situation during COVID-19.