As of 11:30 a.m. Thursday, March 19, 42 Maine residents have been confirmed positive and 10 others are presumed positive for the coronavirus, according to the state. Click here for the latest coronavirus news, which the BDN has made free for the public. You can support this mission by purchasing a digital subscription.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 866-834-4357, TRS 800-787-3224. This free, confidential service is available 24/7 and is accessible from anywhere in Maine.
PORTLAND, Maine — As Mainers move indoors, domestic violence resource organizations have added volunteers to their hotlines and expect a surge in abuse calls, as advocates warn that increased isolation can remove a crucial layer of autonomy for abuse victims.
Through These Doors, a resource center for victims of domestic abuse, has seen a 30 percent increase in calls this month, a spike that executive director Rebecca Hobbs called “significant,” though it’s too soon to draw broad conclusions.
The Portland-based organization, formerly known as Family Crisis Services has added people to operate their hotlines this month, as they expect increased volume as Mainers are confined to their homes during the coronavirus.
Hobbs cited a few reasons for the extra staffing. The group no longer meets with people face-to-face, and they’re trained in phone support. They also have reason to believe that people living with abuse may be at more risk while they’re living in quarantine and practicing social distancing, and don’t have access to traditional support systems and autonomy.
Hobbs said the imposed isolation makes sense from a public health perspective, and they’re not advocating against it. But isolation puts victims at greater risk.
“Isolation is a key tactic of abusers. Abusers will use everything at their disposal to get what they want,” she said. “It’s very worrying.”
Hobbs said the organization has increased coordination with police and other networks. A state police officer told her the agency has received an increase in calls for domestic abuse statewide.
BDN’s inquiry to a state police spokesperson was not immediately returned. Portland Police Chief Frank Clark said that the department had not seen an increase in calls from March 8 to 18.
In Portland, the concern over domestic violence can often overlap with concerns for the homeless community, which is larger relative to other parts of the state. Hobbs said the organization is working with the city to ensure that people living in shelter have access to the same resources.
Concerns over an increase in domestic abuse are among a growing set of ways Mainers are adapting to life fighting the spread of the novel coronavirus. In Maine, a comparable scenario when people might be more exposed to abuse is when they are confined to their homes during large blizzards, but even that is far off.
“In a blizzard, you’d go to your neighbor’s and ask to borrow their shovel,” Hobbs said about people facing abuse situations. “Right now you wouldn’t do that.”
Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine, an advocacy group, is newly offering some of their traditional in-person services via phone to protect the health, safety and well-being of clients, staff, volunteers, and the greater community.
“Our advocates are available and ready to offer support, so we encourage those who have been impacted by sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and/or sexual assault to reach out for support and resources,” said Gina Capra, executive director of SARSSM.
“There is a lot of appropriate concern about what social distancing means for survivors, who are often already isolated and vulnerable,” said Regina Rooney, an education coordinator with the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence.
Rooney said that even in normal times, people don’t realize they can call a helpline if they’re concerned about a friend or neighbor. As Mainers adapt to a new lifestyle and assess basic needs, it may be worth finding ways to check in on people in tough situations.
“At this time, when so many Mainers are rallying around one another in communities of care, we encourage folks to check in with their loved ones who are experiencing abuse, as well, and to call us to think through how to do that,” Rooney said.
Maine colleges have expanded their support systems and resources for prevention and response to on-campus violence, harassment and stalking. But as colleges and universities move classes online and ask residential students to move out of residence halls, they’re still finding ways to offer support and resources for their student body.
The Campus Safety Project, a program at the University of Southern Maine, will be staying connected with students via social media regarding the prevention of interpersonal violence, whether students are in Maine or anywhere around the country or globe, said project coordinator Devon Mulligan.
The group also took precautions to ensure that students weren’t returning to abusive situations at home.
“When evaluating individual student requests to remain on campus at USM, a safe home environment to go back to was one of the factors that were taken into consideration,” said Sarah Holmes, an assistant dean of students who helps run the Campus Safety Project at the University of Southern Maine.
One silver lining to a digital world is that most domestic violence prevention groups around the state began as helplines, so their members are trained to offer comprehensive support.
“Phone work is at our core,” Hobbs said.
The helpline is free, confidential, and can be anonymous.
Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence Statewide Domestic Violence Helpline: 1-866-834-4357
Hearing Impaired Access: 1-800-437-1220
Chat Support via the National Domestic Violence Hotline: thehotline.org
Through These Doors 24-hour helpline: 1-800-537-6066
Sexual Assault Response of Southern Maine: 1-800-871-7741