Amber didn’t want to use her last name when telling her story. While going through a divorce, she entered into a relationship that became abusive, her abuser picking up on her emotional and economic vulnerability, trapping her in a vicious cycle. With a stay-home order in effect, she said, others in situations similar to hers may find it even harder to escape.
“Home is supposed to be a safe space, but right now it’s probably hell for some people,” she said. “In these times it’s not just economic loss—there’s going to be a loss of safety for some families.”
For people in abusive relationships, the order makes already bad circumstances worse, and the Women's and Children's Alliance has seen a 24% increase in calls to its hotline. Though some of its services, like group meetings, have been pared down, the WCA continues to offer others, including its crisis hotline, which is still active 24 hours a day.
Amber went to the WCA in 2005 to participate in a group, but her abuse started the year before. Her abuser began taking care of her financially and, slowly, before she could register what was happening, his assistance turned into domination.
“I think my daughter picked up on it before me. She was only 3, but never wanted to be around him,” said Amber. “Maybe she felt my anxiety. I slowly lost friends; he came to my work and threatened co-workers. I was embarrassed. Eventually I quit my job and was totally under his control.”
Amber was also pregnant. She tried to plan her exit, moving things to a storage unit and obtaining a protection order; but her abuser continued to watch and harass her. He eventually broke into her house and stabbed her in the stomach. She lost the baby.
He was sent to prison, but escaped in 2007, later being caught and sent back. Amber moved on with her life and went to college. Her abuser was released in 2014, but after he began stalking Amber again, he was sent back to prison.
“Now, I’m re-married, and my kids are in my life and I really have a wonderful life,” said Amber. “The WCA helped, and are doing so much right now. They care so much and want to help. They will be there for you.”
People in abusive relationships sometimes get a break from the abuse in the form of daily activities, but in a variety of ways, the COVID-19 pandemic takes away what little autonomy victims may have.
“Any distance from the abuser is gone, and it feeds the already existing problem,” said WCA Director Bea Black. “People have lost incomes, there’s more stress and more time for abuse, and now the kids are home all day, too. It’s a pressure cooker.”
If people can’t make a phone call, get to a computer or go outside, the situation may feel hopeless. Black said victims of abuse could feel trapped in their homes experiencing the tipping point in already unsafe and unstable situations.
“While home is important and safe for most, it’s not safe for everyone," said Black. “Abuse is about someone who wants to control, and now the abuser could have total control. This can be a very challenging time for people in abusive situations, as many can’t get any separation from the abuse.”
Even without the stay-home order, Idaho's challenges with abuse are staggering. According to an annual census from the National Network To End Domestic Violence conducted on Sept. 12, 2019, across all of Idaho's domestic violence programs, 570 victims found refuge in emergency shelters and housing services; 353 victims received counseling, legal, education or support assistance; and 158 calls to crisis hotlines were answered. There were 114 unmet requests for services because programs lacked resources.
With the increase in calls at the WCA, the need for support has only grown. The organization now files civil protection orders through video with Ada County court services, and if people need assistance, they must obtain it through the WCA, since the Ada County Courthouse is no longer open to the public.
The crisis center is open with limited hours and can help with safety planning, which can range from talking about relationships to satisfying immediate needs and making personal appointments. If people feel unsafe at anytime because of their domestic situation, calling the crisis center is always an option.
“You don’t have to wait until something bad happens, and abuse comes in many forms: physical, verbal and emotional,” said WCA Communications Manager Christine Davis. “Twenty-four-seven we have people committed to helping you with any bad feelings you may have—not just physical abuse.”
The WCA is taking only financial donations at this time due to health concerns. People can go to the website and donate both gas and grocery cards. Black said these are especially helpful because it can help ease financial burdens and offer mobility options thereby hopefully affording some comfort or space to people that are hurting.
“We’ve always seen from the community an outpouring of support,” said Black. “We need to heighten awareness about the need, and the biggest way the community can support us right now is through financial donations.”
Amber also has a message for anyone going through any physical or emotional abuse.
“It may seem helpless and you might feel alone, but you’re not,” said Amber. “You just need to find the strength to reach out. There are people that care about your safety and want to help you at any stage of abuse you may be experiencing. If you’re lonely or scared, reach out to the WCA and law enforcement.”