Groups try new ways to reach domestic violence survivors amid pandemic

By: - June 1, 2020 2:02 pm

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This story deals with domestic violence. If you or a loved one is experiencing domestic violence call the 24-hour Arizona hotline 1-800-799-7233 for support and services.

Domestic violence support groups are trying to find new ways to help survivors during the COVID-19 pandemic and doing things ranging from reassessing how they set up shelters to simply trying to let people know they are still open. 

“Yes, we are open, and yes, we are providing services,” Dana Martinez, director of domestic and sexual violence services at A New Leaf, told Arizona Mirror. Martinez said a big part of their push lately has been trying to let people know that they haven’t closed their doors, a misconception they fear many have. 

In April, reports of surges to domestic violence hotlines nationally were reported and the United Nations called for urgent action to be taken as the lockdowns created unintended side-effects. 

Whether that’s been the case in Arizona is unknown, as limited data is available publicly. 

The Chandler Police Department is one of the few police agencies in the nation that makes detailed crime data available for public download, and the only one in the Valley to do so. 

A Mirror analysis found little change in Chandler domestic violence calls in March and April this year – when many businesses were closed and the state was under a stay-at-home order – compared to prior years. 

However, Martinez said that her agency has still been getting lots of work. The past few months, A New Leaf has seen an increase in the number of people utilizing their chat functionality, which allows a person to chat about their situation with an employee via phone or computer. 

She said that many may be thinking that domestic violence shelters are non-essential during the pandemic, leading them to calling police instead of utilizing other resources. 

At A New Leaf, the shelter has been taking on new changes amid the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that those who arrive are there safely not just from their abusers, but from the coronavirus. 

The shelter has been rearranged so there are fewer people in certain areas, and meeting with clients is done mostly over the phone. When social distancing isn’t possible, masks are provided to staff when interacting with clients. 

But the virus has also impacted A New Leaf and other groups like them in other ways.

A New Leaf’s biggest fundraising event, which provides operating funds for much of the year, is usually held in mid-March, right when the pandemic went into full swing. 

Right now, the organization is mainly relying on donations from outside sources instead of the usual fundraising streams, all the while still trying to provide resources to the clients who are still coming in. 

While Arizona is planning to open up more and Gov. Doug Ducey’s stay-at-home order has been lifted, some who are more vulnerable are still staying inside. 

Martinez said if a person is in a situation where their abuser is letting them out for a walk or if there is a small window of privacy, that could be a time where they could reach out to services such as them or others. It’s times like that where their chat feature could play a handy role. 

For those who may know someone who is experiencing domestic violence Martinez said the most important thing you can do is to listen and love them. 

“Don’t try to tell them what to do. They’re the experts on their own situations, don’t try to force them, be their support,” Martinez said, adding that being their support will often help them get to the right resources they need. 

Gun control group highlights domestic violence in ad campaign

Meanwhile advocates in another realm are pushing for survivors of domestic violence in a different way: by engaging them and their allies politically.

Everytown for Gun Safety, a group co-founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to advocate for gun-control measures, is launching the first ad of the $5 million it says it will spend on Arizona races this year

The digital ad, titled “Refused to Act: Arizona,” focuses on two pieces of legislation that would have kept guns out of the hands of those convicted of domestic violence. The ad urges voters to vote out lawmakers who opposed measures that could’ve helped keep guns out of the hands of convicted domestic abusers. 

The bi-partisan bills were blocked earlier this year by Republican committee chairmen. Now that the legislature has ended its annual session, the bills are officially dead. 

“As a result of the pandemic, untold numbers of domestic abuse victims have been trapped at home,” Everytown President John Feinblatt said in a press release about the ad. 

The ad is the first money spent by the organization who declined to state how much they had actually spent on it. 

The group, which earlier this year criticized Republican U.S. Sen. Martha McSally in a $43,000 ad campaign over her voting record on gun control measures, said the effort is part of a larger national push to elect candidates who back gun control measures. Her opponent, Democrat Mark Kelly, has built his public profile around reforming gun laws: He co-founded the gun-control advocacy group Giffords, named after his wife, former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head in an assassination attempt in 2011.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates that nearly 4.5 million women have been threatened by a significant other with a firearm.

“Arizona lawmakers were put on notice and they continue to ignore their constituents,” Kara White, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action said in a statement about the ad. “This ad shows that we have not forgotten about the lives taken by domestic violence or lawmakers’ inaction over the past years.” 

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joined the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.