SWEETWATER COUNTY — Throughout the shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 Coronavirus, YWCA of Sweetwater County experienced an increase in crisis calls.
According to Taneesa Congdon, Program Director of the Center for Families & Children, YWCA answered 79 crisis calls in March 2020 and 177 crisis calls in April 2020.
“Calls more than doubled from one month to the other,” Congdon said.
Regular office, or non-crisis, calls also increased slightly from 152 in March to 189 in April.
“The majority of calls came from victims or survivors themselves seeking assistance, safety, or support. Some calls come directly from law enforcement dispatch or Memorial Hospital ER requesting an advocate respond on scene for a domestic violence or sexual assault,” Congdon said.
YWCA also saw an increase in the need for emergency shelter which increased from 56 shelter nights in March to 88 shelter nights in April.
The Correlation Between COVID-19 and Crisis Calls
With the COVID-19 pandemic, normal routines were disrupted and Congdon believes this has contributed to the number of crisis calls to YWCA.
“This pandemic has created a lot of uncertainty. many households have experienced an upheaval in their routines. Victims were literally trapped in their homes, where they are least safe,” Congdon said.
She added that victims already experience isolation, and quarantining increased this.
“Some weren’t able to go to work to have a break from the abuse or where others could see them,” Congdon said.
In addition, financial strains caused by decreased hours or loss of jobs due to COVID-19 may have contributed to an increase in abuse.
“COVID-19 has also increased financial hardships and other stressors. Abuse is all about power and control and abusers inappropriately and unnecessarily use people as a way to exercise that power and control,” Congdon said.
YWCA answered 150 crisis calls in May, and by June the calls were starting to settle back down to their normal volume.
“However, we usually experience an uptick in the summer,” she said.
What Happens During a Crisis Call?
Congdon notes that each case is different, but the primary concern of each call is if there is an immediate question of safety.
The advocate will ask a series of questions such as, “Are you in a safe place to talk now?”, “Is the perpetrator able to hear?”, “Are you able to meet me at a safe location?”.
“Sometimes we respond with law enforcement for immediate safety concerns. Other times it takes weeks or even months of planning for a person to leave their situation safely,” Congdon said.
She added that sometimes the advocate is there as a listening ear or to help someone through a panic attack.
“Other times it’s putting that person in our emergency shelter or being with them throughout the Sexual Assault Nurse Exam (SANE),” Congdon said.
For More Information and Resources
Despite a cut in funding and taking COVID-19 health precautions, YWCA advocates have continued to work throughout the pandemic to provide resources and needs to the community. For several weeks they scheduled meetings at the office by appointment only to adhere to social distancing practices, as well as virtual and phone court hearings, Congdon said.
Due to loss of jobs, reduction in hours and other effects of COVID-19, Congdon said there have been increased needs for rent and food costs.
“Many survivors that were previously doing well have experienced hardships as a result of COVID-19,” Congdon said.
The Holy Communion Episcopal Church and the Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault helped to fund YWCA to meet these needs.
For those who are experiencing domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, stalking or elder abuse, please know that you are not alone. There is hope and healing is possible.
Advocates are available 24/7 by calling 307-352-1030.