The COVID-19 pandemic has left people isolated and stressed, but for victims of domestic violence, the impact of this crisis has been uniquely harsh.
Hopkins-based nonprofit, Sojourner Project, has been providing free and confidential services to increase the safety of domestic and sexual violence victims and survivors for more than 40 years. Its mission continues, which is to provide emergency shelter, support and legal advocacy services to those victimized by domestic violence and other forms of interpersonal violence, including victims of dating violence and sexual assault.
Sojourner staff members report a 34% increase in the number of clients served via their community based programs already this year compared to the same time last year. Seeking safety from an abusive relationship is always difficult, but advocates have observed a heightened level of challenge for their clients during this time.
Economic stress and hardship, higher levels of isolation, abusers taking advantage of increased vulnerability and an overall sense of collective trauma may all be factors in the higher demand and complexity of cases.
October marks Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Despite decades of advocacy and change, domestic violence remains an alarming pervasive problem in our country and our local communities are not exempt, according to advocates.
“The costs of domestic violence are not solely experienced by victims because the impact of domestic violence is not just confined to the home,” said Sojourner Project Executive Director Helen Chargo. “It follows a victim to work, to school, to family and friends, to various agencies and to the playground. Communities are deeply impacted by numerous police calls, medical services, homelessness, unemployment, truancy and mental health issues that result from domestic violence and abuse.”
The CDC reports that on average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the US. So far this year, Minnesota has experienced 25 domestic violence related homicides, equal the number of deaths during all of last year.
Sojourner has pivoted outreach and education programming to creatively reach victims in western Hennepin County and provide prevention education, in spite of the limitations. This means developing virtual awareness raising and training presentations, creating flyers for businesses to post on bulletin boards or in bathrooms and teaching youth violence prevention education online.
“Effective prevention strategies require community investment and collaboration,” said Community Outreach and Education Manager Laura Sisterman. “No single program can change the environmental factors and norms that contribute to domestic violence but together, each one of us can make a difference in the lives of others.”
For ways to support victims and survivors of domestic violence or to request a flyer for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 952-351-4062. Free and confidential services can be accessed 24/7 via 952-933-7422. Visit sojournerproject.org to learn more.