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Domestic Violence Nonprofits See Increasing Need For Help

A window that is cracking due to an impact.
Jason Jacobs
Flickr Creative Commons
Local nonprofits that provide help for individuals experiencing domestic violence are receiving an increase in calls during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Governor Steve Sisolak has directed Nevadans to stay at home to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, but for some people, their home is not a safe place. Multiple local nonprofits who help victims of domestic violence are seeing an increase in people reaching out for help that are experiencing violence at home. KUNR's Stephanie Serrano spoke with Karhla Ramirez-Tanori, the director of Crisis Intervention and Prevention at the Sierra Community House in Incline Village, to learn more.

Serrano: With this pandemic, have you seen an increase in calls? 

Ramirez-Tanori: We definitely have seen an uptick. I would say we have about a 30% increase in calls from folks that are now in shelter in place with the people that are causing them harm.

Serrano: How has this pandemic made it even harder for people experiencing violence in the home?

Ramirez-Tanori: Maybe before, they had access to a job and so, they were able to leave the home. And the children had school, so then the children went to school. So now that they're home 24 hours, seven-days a week with a person that causes harm, we've definitely had an uptick of calls that range from just needing to be listened to for folks that are just having a high level of anxiety and fear. We also have calls of people that are wanting to flee the situation, so maybe they had been thinking about fleeing and now things have really escalated, and so they want to leave now. We've definitely seen an uptick in people trying to understand if what they're experiencing is abuse.

Serrano: These kinds of situations are already hard for people to get out. How has a pandemic made it even harder?

Ramirez-Tanori: One of the restrictions that came out, one of the guidelines, was that folks that offer short-term housing options — like Airbnb, hotels, motels and temporary housing [for] less than six months — are prohibited at this moment from exercising that type of business. So it also limits us because we may have somebody that is actively fleeing and needs shelter right now, but now those hotel partners or those Airbnb partners or short-time rentals are no longer an option.

Serrano: How are you changing your procedure and has that been difficult for you all?

Ramirez-Tanori: We really focus on mobile advocacy, so we try to meet folks where they are. I think it does add a layer of complexity, but staff have been really amazing at trying to navigate, educate, inform and stay connected with folks. What has been difficult is just having access to the appropriate funding that we need, or money that we need, to help some folks out so that they could stay in safe housing, for example. So generally, as a nonprofit, we have our grants and then we also have our fundraising efforts, but we didn't foresee this happening and the amount of people that need support now has definitely surpassed what we had thought about when it comes to getting funds.

Serrano: How has this pandemic added more pressure in homes where violence exists?

Ramirez-Tanori: Someone might call and say, 'You know what? I've been laid off and now the situation in the household has worsened because now people are overwhelmed by the frustration and anxiety with the finances.' So that can create power and control dynamics in the household and we know that if we say, 'You know what, we can help you. We can pay your rent this month,' that might alleviate some of the stressors that are happening in that household, so that we can at least buy some time. But because this area has such high rent and we are in limited capacity, we're definitely struggling with finding out who can help us. Sometimes folks say, 'You know what, if I can just get to another state, I have friends and family in that state and I can be safe and I'll be okay,' but because of the travel restrictions, and also again, because of the finances, we may not be able to book somebody a flight so they can travel to whatever state they may feel safer in.

Serrano: What doesn't the general public understand about those who can't get away from a violent situation, especially at a time like this?

Ramirez-Tanori: Folks have a really hard time understanding what violence is, what it looks like in a household and how that increases the danger for someone. This situation in particular, when we're adding a lot of stressors — [like] financial insecurity — when people don't have control of their lives, it can easily go inward into a situation where it now becomes violent. Maybe, in your partnership or in your household, there wasn't violence as you may have pictured it, but now because nobody has control over when they're going to work, or how they can pay rent, or where they're going to get their next meal, people start controlling what they can. And maybe what they can control is how much access their partner has to hand sanitizer, or how much access that person has to outside social networks, because now they are having to shelter in place and they don't have access to people. So it creates an opportunity for people to be more controlling. Violence can erupt at any time when people feel like they have no control and that's exactly what we're experiencing now.

Serrano: If someone is experiencing this crisis while quarantining with an abuser, what can they do?

Ramirez-Tanori: Connect with someone outside. Is it a coworker? Is it a family member? Is it a friend that you can have safe conversations with? And if you can come up with a code word, for example, that they can identify and call law enforcement for you or seek outside support for you if things escalate, that is great. If you can identify places in your household where you can be safe if a conflict arises. Maybe an option to go outside, maybe it's a kitchen with a sliding glass door. Where in your household is the safest place to be if a conflict arises. The other is prepare to leave. Although things are limited and resources are limited, if it's a state of emergency, we will do whatever we can to respond. We have a 24-hour hotline. We don't take any breaks, no holidays, nothing. Somebody is always there to support immediately. 

24-hour Crisis Hotline Bilingual Resources:

Domestic Violence Resource Center, 775-329-4150

Safe Embrace, 775-322-3466

Sierra Community House, 1-800-736-1060

Stephanie Serrano (she/her/ella) is an award-winning multimedia bilingual journalist based in Reno, Nevada. Her reporting is powered by character-driven stories and is rooted in sound-rich audio. Her storytelling works to share the experiences of unserved communities in regards to education, race, affordable housing and sports.
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