Op-Ed: There’s a Dangerous Pandemic Occurring in PA – And It’s Not COVID-19

As Governor Wolf continues his lockdown, another pandemic is spreading across our state: domestic and sexual abuse.

Stay-at-home orders are a life-threatening challenge for people who live with abusive partners or family members.

Limited opportunities to leave homes combined with an endless barrage of pessimistic virus-related news, uncertainly about the future, confusing information perpetuated by the Governor, lost jobs and coerced social distancing, foments a toxic environment for victims of abuse.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), twenty people every minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States – BEFORE the pandemic.

Lisa Hannum, executive director of Domestic Violence Services of southwestern Pa., an organization that covers Fayette, Greene and Washington counties, reports that prior to the lockdown, there were twenty-27 Protection From Abuse orders (PFAs) and 105 hotline calls.

Fast forward to April – almost two months into the lockdown – and those numbers revealed a 16% escalation in PFAs and a 44% rise in hotline calls. In Somerset Borough, police Chief Randy Cox reported an increase of 50% in domestic violence calls in his borough.

If you’re a victim of domestic abuse confined to your home because of the lockdown, it’s important to get help. The Healthwise Network recommends the following if you are being abused:

  • Know your rights.
  • Know phone numbers you can call, and places that you can go in an emergency.
  • Teach your children not to get in the middle of a fight.
  • Make copies of your car and house keys, have money or credit cards, Social Security cards and birth certificates as well as other important papers. Secure them with family, friends or at work.

Neighbors and family members: you can and should report domestic violence. Healthwise suggests the following if you know someone who you think might be abused:

  • Be a good listener and a caring friend – remind the person that no one deserves to be abused. Victims often do not want to discuss their issues – but let them know you’re there to help.
  • Suggest that the person call the National Domestic Violence hotline, or help them to find a local domestic violence support group.

If you are a victim of domestic abuse, you are not alone. Below are resources to help. 

The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence (PCADV) provides domestic violence services 24-7 via PCADV.org/find-help and the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.7233 or by texting LOVEIS to 22522. The NDVH is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) is a network that provides sexual assault crisis services. Resources can be found at www.pcar.org or at 1-888-772-7227 for a 24-hour hotline to be connected to a local sexual assault center

The Department of Health ChildLine is a 24/7 hotline for reporting concerns of child abuse or neglect, and is fully operational during the lockdown at 1-800-932-0313 for Pennsylvanians seeking to report potential cases of child abuse or neglect.

Senator Mastriano represents the 33rd District in the Pennsylvania Senate. The District includes Adams County and parts of Franklin, Cumberland and York counties.

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