April 14, 2020
The Johns Hopkins US COVID-19 dashboard* is reporting 572,689 US cases and 23,134 deaths as of 11:45am. – From Johns Hopkins daily update.
April 15, 2020
The Johns Hopkins CSSE dashboard* is reporting 610,774 US cases and 26,119 deaths as of 12:00pm on April 15. – From Johns Hopkins daily update.
Intimate terrorism, domestic violence is a co-morbidity of Covid-19.
I sat at a desk in a building on the second floor of the YWCA, overlooking the back-parking lot on Tulane Avenue in New Orleans, Louisiana. The six-floor building had once been a residence for young single working and professional women. The Young Women’s Christian Association was founded in England in 1855. The Worldwide YWCA was founded in 1889 with Great Britain, the United States, Norway and Sweden as founding countries. It had been delivering women empowerment services in New Orleans since the turn of the 20th century.
By the early 1970’s the YWCA was located in the Mid–City neighborhood of New Orleans. The six-floor former residence still housed recreational swims and swimming lessons, child care, sports and summer camp programs. It also served women with various social, educational and empowerment programs, including the New Orleans Rape Crisis Service and the New Orleans Battered Women’s Service.
In 1977 the YWCA was funded for one paid staff position for a battered women’s counseling and support service, and that person was me. Battered women who called the rape crisis line were counseled that spousal and intimate partner sexual violation was rape, and that physical, emotional and fiscal abuse were forms of violence against women. When women said they wanted to leave but were afraid to leave, they were counseled that they had every reason to be afraid, that they would, in fact, be in increased danger as they planned to leave, when they left, and for an indeterminate time after they left.
When women left violent domestic situations, whether a planned or unplanned departure, many came to my second-floor office in a separate building in the YWCA property’s parking lot. Shielded from the major intersections of Tulane Avenue and Jefferson Davis Parkway, the location was relatively safe because it was not a governmental office or agency. Facing these women from behind my clunky, military-issue desk, I asked questions and had them fill out paperwork. I filled the paperwork out for them if they could not read or write well or could not stop crying or shaking or constantly looking at the door. When a woman needed medical care, I called an ambulance to take them to an emergency room. I arranged for a volunteer to accompany each woman and continue giving her support. More often, a volunteer escorted her to a woman-friendly medical clinic for confidential services. Remember there was no HIPPA back then, no expectation that seeking these services could be kept from a current or former male partner, father, brother, or son.
I called a legal advocate when a woman needed to discuss the legal realities of dealing with an abusive male relative or partner. The advocates explained the possible negative consequences of reporting abuse to the police and the possible legal ramifications and consequences of not reporting abuse to the police. In addition, they informed the woman about the legal ins and outs of child custody for women who were mothers, even in cases in which children were being abused as well. The legal advocate also informed women about the dubious efficacy of restraining orders: often, men didn’t stay away and police didn’t respond when they called. and allowing the abusive person back into the home made the restraining order null and void. When women elected to pursue a restraining order–which was not often on first-time contact–I called for a volunteer to escort and support the woman through the legal process.
I gave the woman information and referrals for shelter, housing, education, medical care, child care, transportation, income resources, and food resources. I also directed them to ongoing counseling and a support group.
When a woman requested shelter, I made an immediate call to the only battered women’s shelter in the Deep South to see if there was an opening. If there was an opening, I made an immediate referral. If there was not an opening, my volunteer team, the woman, and I made an emergency contingency plan to keep her as safe as possible until safe housing was located. This all took four to six hours, depending on the need for medical care or a restraining order and other referrals and supports. I kept drinks and snacks, along with lots of tissues, in my file drawer. We had a limited budget for lunches, bus fare and cab fare. Some days no women came, a rare occurrence. Some days there were as many five women in my office.
After more than a of year working with battered women, I started to wonder why more women didn’t kill the men who repeatedly raped and beat them near to death. I began to have an ongoing fantasy that at the end of each counseling session, I would pull out the heavy metal bottom drawer of my desk. I took out a thirty-eight special, a box of bullets, a gun cleaning kit, a snug pouch for the gun and a brown paper bag to carry it all. I took the woman down to the parking lot where a human target was stationed. I taught her basic self-defense, gun safety, gun cleaning, and target practice. I told her that she had the God-given right to protect her children and herself from rape and assault.
But that was fantasy. As my session with each woman ended, I was filled with rational fears about her safety, the strength of the supports we were able to provide, and the faint glimmer of hope that she would become survivor rather than victim. I filed the paperwork, tidied up the office and packed my things to leave for home.
As I drove to collected my two-year-old daughter from day care, I breathed in my commitment to anti-violence, the empowerment of women and girls and all of those harmed by intimate terrorism. I breathed out my vivid imagined response to violence. I shook off my invitation to harm another. I looked forward to my daughter’s unconditional love, constant questions, run-on telling about her day, and her zest for life and joy.
In these times of Covid-19, many children, women and elders find themselves on lockdown with perpetrators of incest, rape, batterment, and emotional and psychic violence with no place to go for respite, no way to keep the perpetrator at bay and no one to tell. I recommitted to engage in safe ways to protect, support and preserve the lives of vulnerable children, elders, women and men against domestic violence and terrorism.
It is clear that intimate terrorism, domestic violence and woman slaughter is a co-morbidity of Covid-19. It will become ever clearer during the weeks and months of quarantine to reduce the spread of a deadly virus that another destroyer of minds, bodies and souls flourished in epidemic proportions.
I go down my to-do list of self-care: meditate, eat well, rest well, get exercise, connect, connect, connect, stay home–except for the pharmacy & the grocery & then only with mask and gloves & when there are very few people about. Watch less TV, but stay informed. Laugh a lot. Channel fear and rage into expression, action and art. I go to my bookshelf and pull Pat Parker’s book of poetry, Woman Slaughter, from the shelf. I bring up her reading of the title poem, “Woman Slaughter” on YouTube. I read along with her remembered beloved voice.
I continue to chronicle these times.
© Andrea Canaan, MSW, MFA