Kentucky Domestic Violence Shelter Seeing More 'Intensity' of Abuse During COVID-19 Isolation

Jun 4, 2020

Children in the shelter at Barren River Area Safe Space created a work of art with sidewalk chalk.
Credit Barren River Area Safe Space

A south-central Kentucky domestic violence shelter is reporting an increased intensity of abuse as a result of the isolation, unemployment, and stress of COVID-19.

WKU Public Radio reporter Rhonda Miller talked with Tori Henninger, executive director of Barren River Area Safe Space, or BRASS. The organization provides emergency shelter and support services for victims of domestic violence in 10 southern Kentucky counties.


Miller:

So Tori, let me ask you, during this time of pandemic, when a lot of people, or almost everybody, is shut in and they're isolated, is that affecting the number of calls you're having, or not having, at Barren River Area Safe Space?

Henninger:

We are definitely seeing a difference in our calls. There's a slight drop in our call volume, but the intensity of the calls that we're receiving right now are some of the worst calls that we've ever heard. People are unable to provide that distance that sometimes is what needs to alleviate the stressors related to explosive abusive incidents. 

Miller:

Tori, what are you hearing, or what are you what are your staff people hearing? 

Henninger:

A lot of what we're hearing is a more common strangulation is being used, and strangulation is incredibly dangerous and often overlooked at how dangerous it is. The physical aspect of domestic violence is increasing. The people that we've been able to bring into shelter, many of them have had visible marks, bruises. So, most federal, state local governments are saying healthy at home, stay at home. For so many victims of domestic violence that's their every day. They are already in a situation that someone else is telling them when they can leave, and how long they can be gone, and what they can do while they're gone. When you add in the pandemic, then it becomes an even intenser situation. When you look at the abusive partner who may have been able to leave their home when they want because they had a job and they've been let go from their job or they are required to work from home, and so now they're having someone else tell them what they can or can't do, which historically does not go well for abusive partners. They're taking that out on their partner. 

Miller:

So it seems multiplied?

Henninger:

Yes, because you cannot escape like you normally would. You know, for some people, the difference between life and death is whether or not in the middle of an abusive incident, one of the partners can escape and free themselves from that feeling of being trapped. 

Miller:

How many people do you have in your shelter at one time and are you full or is it increasing or decreasing? 

Henninger:

We're a 30-bed shelter. So, for the first six weeks of the pandemic, we had dropped to somewhere between 10-15 individuals in shelter and we are now back up to that 32, 35 mark.

Miller:

What would be the recommendation or suggestion you have for people who are in a domestic violence situation and are fearful, or someone maybe who has a friend or family member who's in that situation, especially during this pandemic?

Henninger:

Make sure that they know that our crisis line is 100 percent still open and that access to shelter is still open. Within this pandemic time, that's actually become a part of the abusive cycle, where abusive partners are using the pandemic as a way of controlling their victim and saying that if you leave, you're going to get COVID-19 and die, if you leave then I'm not letting you back in this house and you're going to become homeless and more likely to catch COVID-19, or everything's closed because of COVID-19 and so there's nobody to help you, there's nobody you can call. And so, they're using it as a tool as an additional tool for how to control their partner.

Miller:

Tori Henninger, thank you so much for talking with me. I appreciate it. 

Henninger:

Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. 

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Note: If you or a friend or loved one are the victim of domestic abuse, you can call the Barren River Area Safe Space crisis line 24/7 at 800-928-1183.