As we face an international pandemic, the fear of the unknown is growing. With schools closed and more businesses closing every day, as well as the increasing practice of social distancing, people are spending most of their time at home. For some, this may be a welcome change of pace. For others, most notably victims of domestic violence, COVID-19 presents a unique fear as people are disconnected from the world and left at the hands of their abusers. If you or someone you know finds yourself in this situation, there is some important information to know.
You Can — and Should! — Still Call 911
If you are in immediate danger, call 911 and do not think twice about doing so. Even in times like these, first responders continue to work to protect our community. These men and women jeopardize their own health and safety for that of their community. Victims of domestic violence often hesitate to seek emergency assistance for a number of reasons. Whatever the reason, do not minimize your need for help and do not hesitate to call 911 if you fear for your safety.
File a Complaint for Domestic Violence Protective Order (DVPO)
With so many closings, you may be wondering how the courts are responding to COVID-19. Currently, in North Carolina domestic violence cases are still being heard by the courts. It is important to file your Complaint as soon as possible because any delay, particularly an unnecessary delay, could cause the Court to question the legitimacy of your filing. Call your local courthouse or consult with a family law attorney. This protection is still available to you and for you.
Seek Safe Shelter
If you are not safe in your home, contact your local domestic violence organization. These organizations are vital to our community and, much like first responders, continue to provide safe housing and support to victims even in times of widespread crisis. As organizations work to address their own concerns regarding COVID-19, their ability to accept new clients may be impacted, but their wealth of knowledge and access to other resources will remain beneficial.
Make a Safety Plan
A safety plan addresses issues victims face while in an abusive relationship, planning to leave that relationship, and as they rebuild after leaving. Each victim’s safety plan will be unique and should address that individual’s needs. In general, ask yourself the following questions: who can I call?; where can I go?; and what should I pack in my emergency bag (i.e., money, clothes, and important documents)? Now, your safety plan should also consider COVID-19. This pandemic may impact how and where you can travel. It may impact whether you have access to certain people and places. Pay attention to any restrictions in place so you can plan accordingly and avoid jeopardizing your safety further.
While a pandemic certainly creates additional obstacles, it does not have to be the reason you remain in an abusive situation. Take advantage of resources, such as these, that are available to you. Talk with an experienced family law attorney — by phone or video — about how you can use these resources, and what others may be available, to protect yourself.
Please note: modified filing and court procedures may be in place during this time. Call a family law attorney or your local courthouse to stay up to date.
Amanda Cubit is a family law attorney with Sodoma Law.