Impacts of the pandemic on domestic violence

28 WOMEN AND CHILDREN: Silhouettes representing people who have died from family violence are on display at St. Anthony Church as seen on Tuesday, Sept. 29 in Tamuning. A Silent Witness Virtual Ceremony was held on last month. Officials urge residents to report family violence and help save a life. David Castro/The Guam Daily Post

With a mandatory lockdown in place due to the ongoing pandemic, some have expressed concern about domestic violence worsening and dampening reporting on island.

Local organizations such as Victim Advocates Reaching Out, or VARO, have noticed that reports of child abuse or domestic violence increased when social distancing and other pandemic-related restrictions were relaxed.

The coalition and VARO noted that during the pandemic, the lack of accessibility to resources, from face-to-face help and safe transportation out of abusive homes, are possible reasons for victims remaining silent.

Juanita Blaz, director of Island Girl Power, said it's more important than ever that the message be shared around the community. “Victims need to know that they are not alone,” Blaz stated, noting that the purple ribbon has been instrumental in discreetly communicating with isolated victims.

Blaz, who has hosted several campaigns in her organization dedicated to family violence awareness, said the purple ribbon that is used to raise awareness of the campaign has also become a sign of encouragement for victims to approach the correct authorities.

The current Pandemic Condition of Readiness 1, permits only essential and authorized businesses and organizations to open. It also limits face-to-face transactions within the workplace.

Case numbers

Cynthia Cabot, director of the Guam Coalition Against Sexual Assault & Family Violence, which partners with VARO, said while there’s no data yet on the actual number of calls, the anecdotal reports from social workers seems to indicate fewer calls but more volatile situations.

Cabot said even before the pandemic, the number of family violence cases reported fell far short of the actual number of cases occur in Guam homes as most families don’t report them.

Cabot said in 2019, there were 1,016 family violence-related cases reported by the Guam Police Department’s Domestic Assault Response Team. That’s the most updated data available.

However, she added, the cases reported by the Guam Police Department “probably only entails 20%” of the total number of actual cases.

“So 20% are reported and ... who knows the countless numbers that go unreported and unrecorded,” Cabot said.

Cabot also noted that victims of these abuses range in age from infants to elders.

Office-manager of VARO, Karen Carpenter also noted that in addition to a range in ages, there’s also a range in types of violence in the community that has a negative impact.

“Family violence is one form of violence,” she said. “I think our community needs to be clearer about not tolerating violence.”

Getting help

Factors such as being in a conservative culture can silence the violence in their household, extending this invalidation to cases in the community, advocates have said.

In previous years, organizations such as Island Girl Power and VARO held presentations about healthy relationships and identifying family violence for island youth. These preventative measures allowed recent generations to be educated about the violence in their community and methods to reduce it.

Teens can do their part to reduce family violence by spreading awareness about the topic to deconstruct the stigma, and sharing resources such as hotline crisis numbers, can save a person’s life, Cabot and other advocates said.

Residents can report abuse to GPD, and they can call VARO, which can help bring victims to safe shelter, and provide guidance to the proper legal services for protective and restraining orders.

VARO's 24-hour hotline crisis number is 477-5552.

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