StrongHearts Native Helpline combats domestic violence amid pandemic
StrongHearts Native Helpline is a free, anonymous helpline for Native Americans who are affected by domestic, dating and sexual violence. COURTESY
TAHLEQUAH – StrongHearts Native Helpline – a free, anonymous helpline for Native Americans who are affected by domestic, dating and sexual violence – addresses a “crisis within a crisis” as new studies show that the COVID-19 pandemic has sparked an uptick in domestic violence numbers.
According to the Radiological Society of North America, “lockdowns during the pandemic have contributed to increased rates of domestic violence across the country and many victims are trapped for longer hours with their abusers.”
StrongHearts Director Lori Jump said the organization is alarmed by the trends in domestic violence during the pandemic.
“It’s a crisis within a crisis,” she said. “Tribal communities are acutely impacted by this issue. Our organization is working to reach out to our relatives in Indian Country with advocates who understand their experience in a personal and authentic way.”
Jump said although numbers show an increase in domestic violence, the organization has experienced a decrease in calls since the pandemic began. To see results, visit https://pubs.rsna.org/doi/10.1148/radiol.2020202866
“We do know the violence has actually been increasing. But if people are forced to shelter in place with their abusive partners, there’s less opportunity for reaching out for assistance,” Jump said.
In the Cherokee Nation, as offices and services reopen, officials had seen an increase in intake and request for services from the tribe’s ONE FIRE victim services, which offers services such as housing, legal and advocacy assistance to women.
“We are seeing as businesses open up and restrictions are lifted our new client intake and request for services from existing clients is increasing steadily,” ONE FIRE Operations Manager Shawna Duch said. “Victims are now able to get to a point where they can flee from an abuser to reach out for help from where they may have been under a 24/7 surveillance during ‘’safer at home’ restrictions.”
She said due to the lockdowns to curb the virus’ spread, victims have been trapped at home with their abusers “isolated from family, friends, and neighbors and even the resources that could help them.”
Duch also said the number of clients will “increase rapidly” due to loss of income and hardships caused by the pandemic.
“I do feel like we will have far more clients to serve than originally expected for 2020 and 2021 with an increase up to 80%,” she said.
CN District Court Judge Luke Barteaux said from the court’s perspective, there has been a “surge of cases” involving protective orders when the lockdowns lifted.
“The most plausible reason is because a large portion of abuse is first reported or encouraged to be reported by teachers, daycare providers, coworkers and family. If a victim isn’t around anyone except the abuser then the abuse is less likely to come to light,” Barteaux said.
For a victim to file a protective order, an attorney is not needed, Barteaux said. Forms are available at the District Court on the Tribal Complex’s second floor.
“If you are scared about what your abuser may do between the time you file for a PO and the first court date, then you can ask for an emergency order, and if granted, it will go into effect immediately,” Barteaux said.
He said stress from the pandemic, unemployment, changes of routines and being cooped up can be triggers for abuse.
“Any amount of stress could be an abuser’s trigger to abuse again,” he said. “Lockdowns give abusers the opportunity to conceal their wrongdoing because the victim heals physically behind closed doors. The ability to conceal the abuse gives abusers a better chance of getting away with it and the abuse reoccurring in the future.”
StrongHearts is also combatting the increase of cases nationally by working to expand the organization to implement 24-hour services by hiring full time and part time advocates. It also has a new online chat advocacy option on its website for victims to remain more discreet.
“It would be a great opportunity for somebody to be able to join our team and help provide assistance,” Jump said. “With an expanded staff and 24-hour services, we can be a life line to a highly vulnerable population during an exceedingly challenging time.”
For information, visit www.strongheartshelpline.org
. The helpline phone number is 1-844-762-8483, available daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
For information regarding ONE FIRE, call 918-772-4260 or visit onefire.cherokee.org