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Isolation Protocols Raise Concerns Over Abuse During Pandemic

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Pandemic protocols call for people to avoid gatherings and stay at home. But victims’ advocates say this can worsen a situation for those in abusive relationships. 

Domestic violence, human trafficking, and child abuse are just some of the situations that worry Julie Weismann, CEO of Womenspace in Eugene.  She says isolation, coercion and control are ways abusers carry out their actions.  And while work and school can give some respite from a bad situation, those options may not exist for some time.

“The pandemic is causing lots of fear," she tells KLCC.  "So lots of people are afraid, the tensions in their households are increasing, and they’re calling for help. And they’re calling for advice. Telecounseling has increased, dramatically.”

Weismann says while calls from abused partners are down, calls from friends, relatives, and neighbors are actually up roughly 30 percent. She says by this weekend, WomenSpace hopes to have a chat service set up so survivors can reach out for help. 

Children’s advocates are also concerned that the pandemic may be keeping abused kids in a dangerous environment.

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

Sarah Stewart is executive director of Kids FIRST in Eugene.  She says normally, they average 700 reports of alleged abuse or neglect a year. With this current pandemic, reports are down 50 percent in recent weeks.  Stewart says that’s because children aren’t with teachers, coaches, and other “mandatory reporters” anymore.  This means relatives, neighbors, friends, and even delivery people are in a better place to detect and report child abuse.

“We know that the isolation and stay-at-home order’s so important right now," says Stewart.

"But at the same time there’s no question that some victims and survivors are absolutely in danger. Anyone who has a concern about a child should feel empowered to make a report.  You don’t have to know for sure that abuse is occurring, you just have to have that concern. 

"It’s not your job to investigate, your job is to make that report.”

Inexplicable injuries, withdrawal from friends or activities, and unusual changes in behavior can all be signs of abuse.

Kids FIRST can be reached at (541)682-3938 or online here.

Womenspace has a 24-hour Crisis Line: (541)485-6513 or (800)281-2800.

Copyright 2020, KLCC.

Brian Bull joined the KLCC News Team in June 2016. In his 25+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional), the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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