Sexual and domestic violence groups in high demand, uncertain for future

Sexual and domestic violence groups in high demand, uncertain for future
Renee Branson of Sexual Assault Resource Agency. (Source: WVIR)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Several sexual and domestic violence organizations in Albemarle County are bracing for the winter months, unsure of how many more people will be in need of their help as the pandemic continues.

“Anytime there is a crisis, whether it be a natural disaster or a health crisis or man-made crisis, rates of sexual violence increase during those kinds of emergencies,” said Renee Branson, interim executive director of Sexual Assault Resource Agency (SARA).

Branson said reports were high at the beginning of the pandemic, and there was an uptick in calls again in August.

Shelter for Help in Emergency (SHE) says the number of calls made to their hotline has remained high since the pandemic began.

“Our hotline calls were up about 60% or a little over 60% over the same period the year before," said Sarah Ellis of SHE.

What concerns both Ellis and Branson, however, are the calls they’re not receiving.

“Why are our phones maybe not ringing sometimes, particularly in a pandemic when people are quarantined? There’s lack of privacy so the ability to pick up the phone and make a call, particularly if you’re in the home with an abuser," Branson said.

Ellis agreed that the despite relatively high amounts of reports, domestic abuse often goes unreported. “We don’t know what’s going on that we don’t know about, so to speak," Ellis said.

Both groups are working to make sure, even in a mostly virtual world, that people are still able to get the care they need safely. However, the future remains uncertain.

“Could we see more of a tighter lock-downs in terms of quarantine and what that may or may not bring is something we’re definitely thinking about,” Branson said.

“Certainly we’re prepared. We’re staying open. We haven’t closed our doors. [The] shelter has been open, shelter services have been open throughout, and we will absolutely be here as we always are 24 hours a day to offer people help,” Ellis said.

Both organizations are encouraging people to call their hotlines if they are in need of help.

Sexual Assault Resource Agency: 434-977-7273

Shelter for Help in Emergency: 434-293-8509

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