Home has been a safe haven for most Houstonians during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For some, though, staying at home could be just as dangerous as venturing out and being exposed to the infectious disease caused by the new coronavirus.
In March, when Houston-area officials began implementing social-distancing guidelines that included a stay-at-home order throughout Harris County, the Houston Police Department saw an 8.72 percent increase in service calls for domestic violence.
“We’re seeing around the country and across the world, in fact, that domestic violence is increasing as a result of COVID,” Houston City Council member Abbie Kamin said. “For every call for help that’s received through the hotline or from HPD, there’s countless others that are at home either not knowing how to reach out or who to reach out to, or they’re not able to because they’re at home with their abuser.
“It’s absolutely tragic,” she added.
Kamin, a Heights-area resident who represents most of the area as the council member for District C, is spearheading a citywide initiative that aims to raise awareness of domestic violence during the pandemic and ultimately curb it. The city is working with the Houston Area Women’s Center (HAWC) and Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council (HCDVCC) to provide resources and safe outlets for victims of domestic violence.
A website, www.nocovidabuse.org, was recently launched that includes safety tips and phone numbers for 24-hour domestic violence hotlines. There also will be a social media campaign that includes videos featuring members of the Houston Dash professional women’s soccer team.
The Houston Food Bank and H-E-B are teaming up to place domestic violence resource flyers in boxes and bags of food that are being distributed throughout the region, and the city said it is helping to provide short-term hotel lodging for victims. In addition, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner recently announced that Uber is providing $50,000 in free rides for victims of domestic violence and human trafficking.
To get help, Kamin said victims can call the HAWC hotline at 713-528-2121 or call or text 911.
“I’m appreciative of law enforcement. Right now there’s no tolerance of this type of behavior,” Kamin said. “It’s really important that victims know that they are not alone and that we are here for them and they do have a way out.”
Kamin said the initiative also aims to curb child abuse, which also is difficult to combat during the pandemic. She said teachers are generally the most frequent reporters of child abuse, but school campuses across the region have been closed since mid-March in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“We’re asking neighbors to check on neighbors and asking residents to be vigilant,” Kamin said. “If you see something that looks off or see changes in a child’s behavior or evidence of abuse or injury, reach out for help or encourage others to reach out through this hotline or by calling or texting 911.”