Rutgers community discusses domestic violence, abuse resources while social distancing

<p>The Rutgers Office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance is adjusting quickly to the COVID-19 crisis and the hotline will remain active, said Coordinator of Special Programs Will Pauwels.</p>

The Rutgers Office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance is adjusting quickly to the COVID-19 crisis and the hotline will remain active, said Coordinator of Special Programs Will Pauwels.

While social distancing may be difficult for many during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, it can be a terrifying reality for children and adults that experience abuse and violence in their homes, said Dr. Amanda M. Stylianou, Rutgers expert on domestic violence and health outcomes.

Stylianou, based at Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care, said social connection is often a major protective factor for those experiencing violence and abuse. 

“For those who rise every morning eager to attend work and school — for its social connectedness and as an escape from daily abuse and violence in their home — social isolation can have a devastating impact on their safety, health and wellbeing,” she said, according to a recent press release.

The COVID-19 crisis makes it difficult to find social connectedness and ways to escape abuse, said Rutgers Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance (VPVA) intern and School of Environmental and Biological Sciences senior Sharlene Cubelo.

“I have been thinking a lot about how much going to school and other activities, like sports, is an escape from unhealthy/abusive homes. With everything being shut down, there’s not many excuses to leave the house,” she said.

Harsheen Singh, a logistics coordinator on the VPVA Programming Board and a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said it is important to reach out through social media and share resources like hotline numbers. 

The staff and volunteers answering the hotline allow individuals to be in control every step of the way, Stylianou said.

“They deeply care about your safety and wellbeing. When you call, you can choose to remain anonymous. You can choose what information you want to share or not share,” she said.

In a call, the staff and volunteers will ask about an individual’s immediate risks and safety needs and help identify safety options, resources and strategies while helping address concerns, Stylianou said. They also help individuals walk through legal resources or identify and transition into a confidential domestic violence shelter if they need safe housing.

Students can also help support victims of domestic abuse during this time by reaching out to their family and friends, Stylianou said.

“Be supportive and listen. Reassure them that the abuse is not their fault and that there are people available to help,” she said. “It is difficult to see someone you care about get hurt. It is important for you to support them no matter what they decide and help them find their own way to safety and peace.”

Stylianou said the research and medical community is working to support survivors at Rutgers and across the state.

The Rutgers VPVA is adjusting quickly to the COVID-19 crisis, said VPVA's Coordinator of Special Programs Will Pauwels.

“First thing that everyone should know is we all had to adjust to going home within one day which requires a lot in terms of making sure we have access to what we need from home,” he said. ”From the counseling and advocacy side of things, we have to make sure we remain confidential and secure through technology. As far as counseling and advocacy, we are able to still provide both and can take new people, although it will be a bit modified and can only be (by) phone support right now.”

The office phone number for the Rutgers VPVA still works, he said, and individuals can reach either a staff member or a trained advocate at any hour.

During this time, Pauwels said it is important to acknowledge the different types of violence against Asian and Pacific Islanders, as well as violence in grocery stores.

“This is where we all need to work together to do as much messaging as we can on our platforms and reach out to offices to help spread some of those messages,” he said.

24/7 hour support services are available. Call 911, call or chat the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233, or call the New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence (1-855-812-1001, The Rutgers VPVA can provide phone support at 1-848-932-1181. For victims that need support with behavioral health and/or substance use, call Rutgers University Behavioral Health at 1-800-969-5300.

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