PAW PAW — Though residents of Michigan have been ordered to stay home and stay safe, home isn’t always a safe place for some.
“Historically, I’ve been doing this for 11 years, cases of domestic violence increase when people are home,” Melanie Hooker, executive director of the Van Buren County Domestic Violence Coalition, said. “Long holiday weekends, the weekend between Christmas and New Year’s, Fourth of July and any big alcohol-drinking holiday.”
She said since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order early last week, the organization hasn’t had that many people reach out for help.
“That’s surprising to me because all of the circumstances are there,” Hooker said. “People are in closer proximity than they might usually be, there are layoffs and financial strain, and the kids are home.”
But Hooker, and Salena Jonjevic, supervisor at the Cora Lamping Center, which helps survivors of sexual and domestic abuse in Berrien County, agree that it’s just a matter of time before they see an uptick.
“The longer the stay-at-home order is in place, I do think we will see that increase,” Jonjevic said. “I think right now people are more worried about the virus, and what that can do to protect themselves from that, than their own current situation.”
So the organizations stand ready to help.
With all the circumstances now there for an increase in cases of domestic violence, Hooker said the coalition has its response team of 27 volunteers active to help people in a moments notice.
She said they are available 24/7 and any call made to the domestic violence coalition comes straight to her.
“We do intake over the phone and have it set up so we can work with the courts electronically too, to get restraining orders or whatever else is needed,” she said.
The safe shelters will still take in people too.
“Our team can go right out to your home, if your abuser isn’t there, and pick you up to take you somewhere safe,” Hooker said. “You’re not alone and there are still people around to help.”
Jonjevic said the Cora Lamping Center is still providing all of its services, but has adjusted how they do some of them.
“We’re deep cleaning the shelter daily, giving masks and gloves out to the people staying here and staff, and we’re limiting the amount of visitors and staff that come in and out of the shelter,” she said.
Jonjevic said the center is in the same tough spot as everyone else right now.
“We have a shortage of gloves and masks,” she said. “Diapers for the babies, toiletries and hygiene products are in need currently too. Donations would be appreciated.”
All of the center’s support services, such as counseling, are now done over the phone or video calls.
“And if someone is in need of immediate help and can’t make a phone call because they’re around their abuser, we do email, text, however they prefer to keep themselves safe,” Jonjevic said. “We’re still here for them and still available. We’ll even help them find housing if our shelter is full.”
Jonjevic said people know their situations better than the staff at the center do, but if you’re in doubt, scared or just need some guidance, residents can call the center.
Hooker said when someone calls into the coalition, the first thing she does is access how serious the case is.
“Of course all cases are serious, but if it is an emergency with immediate danger, physical abuse or a threat of physical abuse, we might involve law enforcement,” she said.
Hooker said most people who are in an abusive relationship know when their partner is getting to the point of being dangerous.
“Be prepared and be aware of what’s going on around you,” she said. “If you can diffuse the situation by going on a walk, do it. You can still walk around outside. But if you need to get out, we’re still there.”
The Van Buren County Domestic Violence Coalition, based in Paw Paw, can be reached at 888-655-9008.
The Cora Lamping Center, in Benton Harbor, can be reached at 269-925-9500, or by email at coral firstname.lastname@example.org.