WRCNM SERVICES: beyond the pandemic

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In both Michigan and across the country, domestic abuse programs witnessed an increase in crisis calls and survivors seeking emergency shelter following the lifting of pandemic stay-at-home orders. A notable factor cited was the increased difficulty in finding a safe time to call if the abusive partner is at home.

The Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence, representing 73 domestic violence service providers statewide, reported an increase in calls on the state’s hotline in the final two months of 2020, equating to the entire previous year’s volume.

WRCNM Housing and Advocacy Program Director Haley Schneider noted a similar trend during the stay-at-home phase, during which the 24-hour help and information line experienced lower call volume. However, these figures rose throughout the pandemic, with a significant increase this past year. Statistics highlight this change, with 632 callers reaching out for support through the 24-hour helpline during the fiscal year 2019-2020, increasing to 1,016 during the past year.

Recognizing the evolving needs of survivors during this unprecedented situation, WRCNM quickly adapted by introducing teleservices. This innovative approach allowed advocates and therapists to maintain vital connections with survivors who were confined to their homes. Despite the end of the pandemic, WRCNM continues to offer teleservices, recognizing the ongoing importance of flexible and accessible support.

During the pandemic, challenges extended to the court system, impacting survivors navigating legal processes. Schneider mentioned that the criminal justice system had to postpone cases during that time. The courts began offering virtual attendance for hearings through platforms such as Zoom, and many in our region continue to offer this option. Survivors often prefer virtual attendance to avoid the trauma of having to face an abusive partner in person. In this region, courts have largely caught up on the backlog of postponed cases for survivors seeking justice.

Reporter Anna Liz Nichols has written a series about the challenges confronted by domestic abuse survivors in Michigan during and beyond the pandemic. It has been featured in the Michigan Advance, a nonprofit news outlet, and is available at michiganadvance.com.