Pandemic, holiday stress can lead to increase in domestic abuse
Julie Brown, Special Writer
The COVID-19 pandemic and holiday season can make for troublesome times as the stress of both impacts families throughout the area.
"Just because there's a pandemic doesn't mean domestic violence isn't happening," said Audriana Buchanan-Cronk, community engagement and volunteer program coordinator for First Step. "Home isn't always a safe place for everyone."
First Step was founded in 1978 to address domestic violence and sexual assaults, and operates an in-person shelter. That's remained open in the pandemic with additional health/safety protocols, and the phone help line of (734) 722-6800 is staffed around the clock.
"It also leads to lack of resources or time to contact an agency like ours," she said of the pandemic.
She doesn't have specific COVID-19 data but has seen frequency of abuse now on the rise, along with use of weapons. First Step assists some 8,000 people a year with Buchanan-Cronk noting, "Already our numbers are pretty high."
"For children, it's a very scary time right now," she said, in part without the "safe adults" at schools not assessing children who are abuse victims. She's seen some abusers use the threat of exposure to COVID-19 for power and as a means of manipulating.
Sgt. Adam Shulman of the Canton Police Department notes, "We have a very good working relationship with First Step." The agency formerly operated an office at the Canton police station, he added, emphasizing "Just know we're here to help people work through issues. Please call the police department" if there's a crime or a heated argument.
"That's what we're here to do," Shulman, a 13-year Canton police veteran, said of resolving problems by assessing situations.
Buchanan-Cronk, on the staff at First Step for about four years, explained that the current situation impacts ways to implement cooling off strategies when conflicts occur in families.
"People can't use 'Oh, I have to go to the grocery store,'" she said, as public buildings like restaurants and libraries are closed. That has impacted the work of First Step, she said.
There are bright spots, too, however. More people are committing to their First Step appointments with fewer no-shows.
"They can just pick up the phone and start talking. Video and phone," said Buchanan-Cronk. Compared to 20 or 30 years ago, she sees more awareness of domestic violence issues, although some cultures discourage discussing family problems.
"Unfortunately our society often tends to victim-blame," said Buchanan-Cronk. She added men are also survivors, and domestic violence exists in the LGBT community and across socioeconomic lines.
The holiday season brings financial and spiritual stress, and she noted "Again that isolation piece can be difficult. No one's immune to violence. First Step is here for them and they're not alone."
The 24-hour phone line is the point for services for adults or children, to begin getting a personal protection order and to access the criminal justice system advocates (with local courts now meeting virtually).
Fundraising at First Step has been heavily impacted by the financial stress of the pandemic, so financial donations are appreciated. A virtual holiday shopping event promotes a call for toy donations through Dec. 14.
Craft kits are also very useful at the shelter, she said, and donations assist with food and medical needs. Buchanan-Cronk doesn't see alcohol necessarily playing a large role with additional abuse of family members currently, but the emotional, physical and financial environment have an impact.
The www.firststep-mi.org website has a wealth of information, including on becoming a volunteer at First Step. The agency, also on Facebook, has facilities in Plymouth, Wayne, Lincoln Park and Detroit.
Shulman of the Canton Police Department agrees family stress can be abated by a walk around the block. "People could do that for a cooling-off period," he said. "Obviously if there's a crime we want them to call us."Enable GingerCannot connect to Ginger Check your internet connection
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