For many, the home is considered a sanctuary while the COVID-19 pandemic plagues the outside world. For some, a sickness seeps into the walls of what should be a shelter.
The United Nations has described it as a “shadow pandemic” — a global uptick in domestic violence incidents.
The data show that staying at home has worsened abusive situations — a stark reality for the Crisis Center of Wharton County and the vulnerable population it serves.
It’s thought cases have increased by 20% during the lockdown, as many people are trapped at home with their abuser.
‘Many clients have advised that when the abuser was at work, the victim and children had some relief from the abuse, but with school out and the abuser being present more frequently, they couldn’t take the continual abuse.’
In Wharton County, 19 protective orders have been requested since COVID-19 hit Texas in mid-March.
According to Crisis Center Executive Director Kelli Wright-Nelson, victims have reported experiencing heightened isolation and exposure to increased domestic violence with shelter-in-place orders.
This can be attributed to many things, she said, but the most reported were: the abuser being laid off from work due to COVID-19 and the victim not having time away from the abuse, with the abuser being home 24/7; increased tension due to financial issues as a result of lay-offs; and children being at home due to schools being closed and increasing tension in the home with the abuser present.
“Many clients have advised that when the abuser was at work, the victim and children had some relief from the abuse, but with school out and the abuser being present more frequently, they couldn’t take the continual abuse. Abusers frequently use isolation as a tool to separate the victim from loved ones, support and friends,” Wright-Nelson told The County Gin. “It was very common for a victim to request assistance while the abuser was out of the home for work, but with the increased unemployment rate some of these victims have no access to help or support due to increased opportunity for the abuser to isolate them from everyone and everything.”
The executive director has seen the effect first-hand.
“I will say, we have seen a rise in cases during COVID-19,” Wright-Nelson said, explaining how the agency utilized a motel as an overflow ad-hoc domestic violence shelter. “We are not turning away anyone who needs shelter.”
Since early June, the agency has received assistance with housing.
‘we are here to serve and thankfully, victims are taking advantage of our services during this time.’
“We are no longer utilizing the motel for overflow. We recently had several clients who received assistance through public housing and were able to obtain their own residences,” the executive director said. “We have set up our shelter to be able to separate clients and isolate new clients for a 14-day observation period to ensure the safety of our existing clients while accommodating new clients. The motel arrangement was great when we needed the extra rooms, but ultimately, we would prefer to have our clients on our property where there is increased safety, 24 hour surveillance and trained employees to handle crisis situations.”
The success of the agency during this difficult time is due in large part to the shelter staff.
“We do a lot of group therapy among our shelter clients to try to work everyone through the process and learn how to better our services. Of the things we learned during that time is that we had a lot of people that were high-risk,” Wright-Nelson said. “So, the general consensus was no one was going to leave to make sure everyone remained healthy. I made a lot of runs for a lot of people. We did a lot of baking, crafts and life-skills classes. Our shelter staff was amazing. They really kept it together though this. If it weren’t for their creativity, it wouldn’t have gone as smoothly as it did. Not to say there weren’t issues because you can imagine having 11 women and 19 kids that didn’t step foot outside our facility.
“We have been very busy. It is upsetting that so many people are in need of our services, but we are so glad that victims are seeking help. We are here to serve and thankfully, victims are taking advantage of our services during this time.”
With the influx of clients due to COVID-19, the Crisis Center of Wharton County is always in search of individuals to volunteer their time and efforts.
“We have a lot of volunteers that want to do administrative work, but what we really need is hands-on victim services,” said Wright-Nelson. “I always accept volunteers for the shelter. We cannot have enough volunteers for the shelter, especially with the kids.
“We have Matagorda County Animal Control that comes in. She is also a wildlife rescue and she’ll come in and teach the kids about snakes, possums and all kinds of wildlife. Sometimes, she’ll bring puppies. I did bring my cow one time. So, anything crafty or interesting, the kids love. Even hotline answerers are appreciated.”
If you or a loved one are at risk or are experiencing domestic violence, please contact The Crisis Center’s 24-Hour Crisis Hotline 1-800-451-9235.
To volunteer or for more information, visit www.crisiscnt.com.
Read more about how The Crisis Center is expanding its services in Part 2 of The County Gin’s coverage.