Partnerships in Houston Aim to Help Domestic Violence Victims During Pandemic
As people continue to remain home during the quarantine to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, victims of domestic violence and human trafficking are finding it harder to escape their abuser.
Public health advocates and Houston city leaders launched a #NoCOVIDabuse website to promote a public awareness campaign where victims can find help to protect themselves from their abuser. The website provides hotlines to the Houston Area Women’s Center and the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Tips on how to create a safety plan at home and how to reach out are also provided on the website.
“COVID-19 impact has been felt by the most vulnerable among us in Houston and this includes trafficking and domestic violence victims.,” Huston Mayor Sylvester Turner said during an April 22 press conference. “We know reports of domestic violence have increased as victims are homebound with their abusers. We implemented the stay home work safe order to encourage social distancing and to save lives.”
The #NoCOVID19abuse program is a partnership involving Turner, the Houston Police Department, the Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council, and the Houston Area Women’s Center. The program also received a $50,000 grant from Uber, who Turner said will provide free rides for victims to services.
The Houston Police Department reports an 8.72 percent increase in domestic violence calls from February to March, when concerns about COVID-19 resulted in stay-at-home orders in Harris County.
Emilee Whitehurst, CEO of the Houston Area Women’s Center, said her organization has received a 40 percent increase in calls, with many victims asking for shelter from their abusers. She added that in times of crisis like Hurricane Harvey, reports of domestic abuse usually increase.
“If you are in an abusive situation, I want you to plan for your safety,” Whitehurst said at the same press conference. “Planning for your safety can save your life and your children’s lives. Please visit this website or give our hotline a call. It can change the outcome of your situation.”
Whitehurst added shelters are exercising COVID-19 precautions by practicing social distancing, providing masks and using sanitizers.
For victims looking to create a safety-at-home plan, the #NoCOVIDabuse program recommends:
- Staying in rooms with quick access to an exit
- Keeping your phone fully chargedCreating a 9-1-1 code word with children, friends and family members
- Knowing where weapons are stored in the house
- Taking breaks from the house by going outdoors
- Calling the 24/7 free and confidential domestic violence hotlines
- Calling 9-1-1 in emergencies
For victims of domestic abuse and human trafficking who are looking for assistance, they can call the Houston Area Women’s Center Domestic Violence hotline at (713)528-212 and the
National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-9233.
“It is time we start focusing on flattening the domestic violence curve,” Whitehurst added.