The coronavirus pandemic has uprooted our lives in ways few could have imagined even just a few weeks ago. We are living through a time of worry and uncertainty – we all fear for the health and well-being of our family, friends and ourselves.
Our health care system and our economy are being stressed to their core. Everyone who is able to stay home and practice physical distancing should do so for the sake of helping to limit the spread of this devastating virus. For some, however, taking precautions to prevent the spread of coronavirus means staying at home to face a dangerous situation of sheer terror around the clock, sometimes with life-and-death consequences.
It is imperative that we remember those who are experiencing domestic or sexual violence during this national health crisis.
Research tells us that the rate of domestic and sexual violence increases significantly during times of public crises and that unemployment and financial insecurity are risk factors for such violence. We are already seeing that on the ground in New Hampshire.
We’ve heard about sexual assault survivors stuck in the same building or the same neighborhood as their assaulter, as well as those who are experiencing domestic violence and who are stuck at home with their abusers in a moment of incredible stress. For many survivors, leaving your abuser has long been financially daunting. Given the economic woes we are all grappling with now, those hurdles can seem insurmountable for many.
It is for these survivors that Congress must act. Emergency shelters and survivor support organizations were already overwhelmed before COVID-19, but the number of those who need their help is only growing. I was proud to advocate for additional funding for the National Domestic Violence Hotline and Family Violence Prevention Services programming that were included in the coronavirus relief legislation that became law in late March. I am teaming up with my colleagues to push for additional funding as Congress considers another legislative package this month.
We are also working to try to identify a fix that would allow survivors to collect their coronavirus direct payment checks as an individual if they have left their abuser after jointly filed their tax returns. That money rightly belongs to the survivor and should be used to help them rebuild their lives – it should never end up in the bank account of an abuser.
Now more than ever, it is important that we look out for each other. Sometimes the simple act of a teacher noticing the bruises on a child or a survivor confiding his or her fears to a colleague at work can put those survivors on a path towards safety. As person-to-person interactions are increasingly limited, the onus falls on each of us to be aware and notice those who may be in danger. If you see something, say something – it could save someone’s life.
I also remain in awe of the incredible work done by the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence and their 13 member programs and crisis centers covering the entire state. As a survivor of sexual assault, I want to echo their call to everyone who is suffering from abuse or sexual violence: You are not alone, and help is available for you – even in these difficult times.
As frightening and stressful as this pandemic is, it has also been incredibly heartening to see acts of kindness and goodwill across New Hampshire. It is a reminder that we will persevere through this crisis because of the help and support we provide each other. A critical part of this is making sure those dealing with domestic and sexual violence are not forgotten and have the support they deserve.
The New Hampshire Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-866-644-3574. The New Hampshire Child Abuse Hotline is 1-800-894-5533, or you can visit knowandtell.org. The New Hampshire Sexual Assault hotline is 1-800-277-5570. All these hotlines are confidential and remain staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Advocates can provide support and information to help survivors and those who care about them.
(Annie Kuster represents the 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.)