Perhaps one of the most dire consequences of the coronavirus pandemic has been the increase of domestic violence during state-imposed lockdowns and quarantines.
While most states have eased stay-at-home measures, many safe spaces — including community agencies and public hangouts — remain closed. This keeps many people, including college students, home with their abusers.
As a campus victim advocate, one of my first thoughts at the beginning of the pandemic regarded such students. It is already difficult to seek support when facing violence at home; imagine doing so during a global pandemic and public space shutdown.
Our students and other community members may be at an increased risk of physical or emotional abuse now. So, here are my tips for best supporting them. While campus advocates might find these tips most applicable, all of these suggestions can be used by any student affairs professional working with students who are facing violence at home.
1. Update online resources
Update your website and online presence to be reflective of current services and support. For example, if COVID-19 is keeping you from meeting students in person, describe what digital methods are available instead. If you are meeting in person with masks on and social distancing, describe precisely how that works.
Consider that students may also find your support through social media. Connect with your campus media department to see if they could highlight your office’s contact information during high traffic times. If you have staff (within your own office or department) who manage your social media, assign them to implement a campaign that lets students know about advocacy services for individuals facing violence.
You may also consider going live on Instagram or Facebook to talk about advocacy services and how students can get help. You can go in-depth in describing what is available to them while increasing engagement with your page.
2. Consider online safety
When working with people who are facing domestic or dating violence, it is important to recognize that they may not have a safe way to access online resources. Some abusers track internet and phone usage in order to control their victims.
So, as a safeguard, add an “exit” button to your support websites. On many websites, such as The Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Violence’s site, it is a large colorful box with “exit” or “quick exit” written in white letters. This allows someone to click out of the webpage more quickly if and when their abuser enters the room.
It’s also a good idea to offer options for support wherein survivors do not need to speak out loud. This may keep their privacy if they are home with an abuser. You can offer email, text, or online chat options.
If you meet students in person, have paper materials on hand. Printed materials may be easier for the victim to hide if someone is tracking their online activity.
3. Determine where and when to safely meet students
Depending on your staff’s comfort levels, local health guidelines, and campus rules, it may still be possible to meet students in-person to offer support.
Work with your advocacy team to plan to meet students facing violence in person if necessary. For example, our team will be offering support mainly via phone or Microsoft Teams, but if a student requests an advocate to accompany them to the police station or the hospital, we have someone who is comfortable and available to meet them while wearing a mask.
4. Amp up your outreach
Since putting more physical distance between ourselves and our students is a priority for everyone’s physical health right now, we need to amp up our outreach so that we can still engage students who are facing violence.
Brainstorm all the possible ways you could reach students. For example, my students will be creating a passive display of “relationship flags” across campus throughout October to raise awareness for signs of intimate partner violence and services available on campus. Red flags will have signs of violence written on them and green flags will depict characteristics of healthy relationships. Students can pick up a ribbon tied to a flyer listing campus resources from baskets placed under each flag.
I’ve found it helpful to include students in brainstorming ideas. On our team, we’ve assigned a group of peer educators to be responsible for social media and web content. This has proven successful in amping up our outreach because students promote our events and services to their large network of friends.
By assigning our peer educators to work on social media, they’ve blown us away with their creativity. They’ve created Instagram reels on how to have a good day in quarantine and how students can access the student health center. They are hosting a social media campaign on how the pandemic has affected rates of violence.
Engaging students in your outreach will increase student views of your resources!
5. Train those interacting online with students on how to recognize violence
You may personally have less contact with students working remotely, but plenty of people across campus are likely to maintain high-touch virtual contact with students.
So, work with faculty members to help them recognize when it’s appropriate to make a referral to your support services. Connect with academic deans to see if you can speak at department meetings regarding how to recognize signs of violence at home. Tell them about the services you have available to students.
You can also work with your campus mental health counseling center. Attend a staff meeting and talk about what you can offer students facing violence. Explore how your work might tie in with theirs. If your campus is at all residential this term, it is also important to train residence life staff on how to recognize signs of violence and when they should loop your team in.
As an advocate, you might recognize signs of violence quickly. But for those who don’t work in advocacy or prevention, it might not be as automatic. Check out RAINN’s website for tips on recognizing violence among college-aged young adults. If you recognize this kind of violence, you can offer support in a number of ways. Here is a great article from RAINN on how to support those who are struggling.
6. Continue learning
Spend some professional development time each week looking into how the pandemic has affected rates of violence and what organizations can do in this time to better support those living with violence.
Here are some sobering statistics:
- Calls to domestic violence helplines have surged in the pandemic. In March, 383 people called a domestic violence hotline in Chicago; in April, it increased to 549.
- In China’s Hubei province, reports of domestic violence tripled at the start of shutdown measures.
- Reports of domestic violence rose 22% at the start of Portland, Oregon’s stay-at-home order.
Additionally, this article about how community organizations can better collaborate during COVID-19 is on my reading list. You could also check out this article to learn more about the impact of shutdowns and quarantine orders on those facing violence.
7. Partner with community agencies
Community organizations that work to end violence might have more information on how the pandemic has affected their clients. Because of this rise in violence, it’s best to approach with an all-hands-on-deck mentality.
If you are not familiar with your community victim support agencies, reach out to introduce yourself. You can find yours by searching for survivor support or victim services in your town. Once you find them, connect with their staff to share services and resources. When you build collaboration with your local agency, you can refer students who are not comfortable finding help on your campus to them.
By making small adjustments like this while we continue to move through the pandemic, we can help keep students facing violence at home as safe as possible.
What questions do you still have about violence prevention? Connect with us on Twitter @HelloPresence.