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Stress caused by coronavirus concerns can heighten risk of domestic violence

Stress caused by coronavirus concerns can heighten risk of domestic violence

Staying cooped up in a crowded house or apartment. Stressed out over the coronavirus outbreak. Worried about the family’s finances and whether you and your spouse will still have jobs in a few weeks.

The conditions aren’t ideal for a generally healthy relationship, let alone a rocky one.

Until a few days ago, Omaha-area residents had many places they could go to let off steam — bars or restaurants, for example. Hanging out in those places is no longer an option.

“You are in a room or in the same house with somebody, and you don’t have those same outlets,” said Jodi Hayes, the forensic nurse examiner supervisor for CHI Health. “It makes things more dangerous for those in abusive situations.”

People who are in immediate danger or who think a situation will escalate to harmful behavior should contact law enforcement, Hayes said. Short of that, she said, people who can get away from a tense situation should just leave the room.

“Walk away,” Hayes said. “Don’t feed into whatever it is causing the disturbance to begin with. Take a walk outside, go to a different room. Try to calm the situation. ... Do whatever you can in order to de-escalate the situation and know you can always reach out for help.”

Being isolated heightens the risk for domestic violence, even in normal conditions, said Amy Richardson, CEO of the Women’s Center for Advancement. Stress and financial woes only add to the risk.

“This is an extremely dangerous time for families that have violence going on in their homes,” Richardson said Friday.

The WCA works with people to assess risk and outline a safety plan. The organization also offers access to classes and support groups.

The community should be on alert, too, Richardson said. If you witness a domestic violence situation or think a friend may be in danger, call law enforcement.

“I really hope the community is aware of the vulnerability of survivors of this type of crime and that we don’t forget to protect them,” Richardson said. “I really believe that we can keep our community safe if we’re just mindful of those folks.”

Hayes said that as neighbors, “we have to be a little more diligent in looking for those signs that something may be going on next door. Especially if you live in an apartment complex.”

Richardson offered these tips:

  • Make a list of supportive people to have regular check-ins with via phone or video chat.
  • Take breaks outside, if you’re able, keeping social distancing in mind.
  • Consider what places in your home are easy to get in and out of during a conflict.
  • Create a code word to share with your support network that indicates you are in need of immediate help.
  • Make and hide an “escape bag” with your important documents, medicine, keys and other items.
  • Be gentle with yourself; you’re doing the best you can.

Hayes said if someone doesn’t feel safe reaching out for help, “reach out tomorrow or in the middle of the night or when somebody is in the shower or in the bathroom.”

For more information or assistance, call the Women’s Center for Advancement at 402-345-6555 or the 24/7 hotline at 402-345-7273.

Douglas County officials also note that people can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration disaster distress line to talk at any time with a counselor, doctor or a clergy member at 800-985-5990. Interpreters are available. For text messaging, text TalkWithUs to 66746.

The Boys Town National Hotline, a resource for parents or caregivers and families, is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is staffed by trained Boys Town counselors. The hotline number is 800-448-3000.

The email for speech- and hearing-impaired is

Also, the Nebraska Family Helpline is a resource for families concerned about a youth experiencing mental or behavioral health issues. Assistance is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The number is 888-866-8660.

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Bob Glissmann helps cover public safety and weather events as an editor on The World-Herald's breaking news desk. Follow him on Twitter @BobGlissmann. Phone: 402-444-1109.

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