Isolation brought growing concerns about domestic abuse. These Pittsburgh-area groups innovated to keep lifelines open.

Nicole Molinaro, president and CEO of Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, said the pandemic has worsened domestic abuse. Organizations like hers have responded by adapting their services. (Photo by Quinn Glabicki/PublicSource)

by Atiya Irvin-Mitchell, PublicSource

People experiencing domestic violence found themselves isolated in startling new ways during the pandemic, while the organizations dedicated to serving them raced to assist them in a world that required distance.

In the early months of quarantine, hotlines through which people seek help were troublingly silent. The pandemic didn’t stop domestic violence, but it did make it more dangerous to reach out for help.

The pandemic, however, did encourage local organizations that serve individuals experiencing abuse in the city and county to collaborate with institutions they might not ordinarily, to update their methods of outreach and to think of new ways to make their services and support accessible. Most organizations plan to keep these innovations even in a post-pandemic world.

Even as more of the population becomes vaccinated, domestic violence survivors have a long road ahead of them.

“We are still seeing victims and survivors who are being very, very abused and, unfortunately the prediction globally is that this increase will continue for the next year to two years even post-pandemic,” said Nicole Molinaro, president and CEO of the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh.

“Because of the added stress and change, it’s opened up a Pandora’s box.”

Domestic violence in a crisis

During times of crisis and natural disasters, rates of domestic violence tend to rise. The pandemic wasn’t an exception. A report released by the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice in February 2021 estimated that domestic violence in the United States increased by 8.1% since the beginning of lockdowns.

As a result of pandemic-related barriers, domestic violence can be underreported. Pennsylvania experienced a mix of programs that saw an increased need and instances when clients couldn’t safely reach out. During the red phase of quarantine, the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh saw a 48% decrease in calls.

“Our clients have experienced more serious abuse, more frequent abuse,” Molinaro explained. “They have experienced, in some cases, resurgences of abuse from exes who have not been in touch.”

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Isolation brought growing concerns about domestic abuse. These Pittsburgh-area groups innovated to keep lifelines open.

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