Though the Spokane Police Department’s domestic violence cases are not on the rise, neither the department nor victim advocacy groups think those numbers are indicative of the true problem. The stay-home order has created unique barriers for victims, and advocacy groups in Spokane and North Idaho hope providing a texting option could be a lifeline for some of these victims.
“Usually, victims have (the) ability to get alone time to make phone calls,” Morgan Colburn, YWCA director of counseling and advocacy and outreach, said. “That may not be the case right now because their perpetrator may be – either due to quarantine or job loss – in the house almost 24/7.”
Like YWCA’s help line, the texting line is available at all hours. Though the YWCA’s office is not open during the stay-home order, the group’s safe house is still running – and it’s running at capacity.
The text line can provide general information or someone to communicate with, but Colburn said screening for placement at the shelter is difficult while YWCA offices are closed during the stay-home order.
The text line can refer people to other services, but most services require a phone call. People in need can text 911 for emergencies, a service that’s been available since 2015.
Colburn suspects that once the stay-home order is lifted, the floodgates will open. Victims will be able to physically separate themselves from their perpetrators and the YWCA’s offices will reopen. She is worried victims who have been assaulted aren’t seeking medical attention for their injuries due to fear of exposure to COVID-19.
Safe Passage, in North Idaho, is providing an equivalent text-based service.
“It was something that we had talked about as far as wanting to go there with our technology, but as soon as this pandemic and the stay-at-home order came out, we knew we had to do it,” Chauntelle Lieske, Safe Passage executive director, said. “When you’re thinking about being at home with perpetrators, it’s pretty much impossible to make a voice call and seek help without that perpetrator knowing what’s happening.”
Like the YWCA’s line, Safe Passage’s text line is open 24 hours a day.
“It’s a way for survivors to keep in touch with an advocate, to safety plan, to learn about resources, to reach out for help,” Lieske said. “Anything that they would call a hotline for, they can get through that 24-hour text line.”
Since the text line was started three weeks ago, Lieske said Safe Passage has seen an increase in people reaching out. Unlike the YWCA, Safe Passage was able to keep its main office open.