Spending time at home during the pandemic is great for some people, but for victims of sexual violence, isolation can heighten the danger.
In the first six months of 2020, the Rape Crisis Center has seen a 60-percent increase in demand for its counseling services.
Daniele Staple is with the center. She said more survivors are reaching out for those services because many of their regular coping mechanisms aren't available, while, at the same time, there are increased stressors because of the pandemic.
“A lot of survivors are looking to services like ours because we have remained open throughout," she said, "They know we’re a 24-hour system they can reach out to."
While the number of survivors seeking help has increased, Staple said the number of reports of sexual assault has decreased along with the number of times the center has been called to assist with someone going through an assault exam.
She attributes that to the pandemic as well.
“The isolation means a lot of folks that maybe have current victimization happening, unfortunately, aren’t able to get out and report it for the situation with the pandemic. Being isolated at home potentially with abusers, with everything going on, they may not feel as comfortable going to law enforcement right now,” she said.
Staple said the center is trying to get creative in how it reaches out to people about its services, particularly children who don't have the kind of access to school services they once did.
The Shade Tree says domestic violence is also on the rise, despite Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department reporting flat numbers in domestic calls.
“There has definitely been an increase in domestic violence/intimate partner violence with families because (of) being locked down, being quarantined in their home,” said Shade Tree Executive Director Linda Perez.
She said there are several factors contributing to the rise, including financial strain and children being out of in-person schooling.
As far as the reports to Metro Police are concerned, Perez said, it is common for domestic violence victims to reach out to family and friends rather than police.
Her concern right now is the shelter cannot provide as much help as it used to because of capacity limits. It is only running at 40- to 50-percent capacity to maintain social distancing rules for clients and staff.
Perez said the shelter does its best to find safe places for people in crisis by referring them to other agencies or family members.
“We try to do the best we can to place them or find them somewhere to go,” she said.
Even before the pandemic, Perez had wanted to provide more services for people who may not need a bed to sleep in but do need support to get out of a violent situation. She said the pandemic sped up the shelter's efforts to create those programs.
Earlier this year, Shade Tree and the Rape Crisis Center, along with other agencies and nonprofits, came together to create RISE, a program for people who are victims of human trafficking.
Staple said that since the program began it has helped more than 70 people out of human trafficking situations. Fifty-six of them were being sex trafficked.
She said now that agencies are collaborating on this effort, they're getting referrals from other nonprofits and law enforcement.
Some victims are juveniles who have been 'turned out' onto the street to be prostitutes and some are people who have been in the situation for a long time and are now seeing more violence in their homes because of the stress of the pandemic.
“Folks are experiencing all kinds of different situations and because so many are so desperate for employment, (that) also makes a lot of folks much more vulnerable to labor trafficking right now, especially if they are undocumented or have other barriers to employment,” Staple said.
Staple and Perez pointed out that domestic violence, sexual assault and rape are not individual problems but actually crimes on the same spectrum and are often interconnected and related.
“Domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, child sexual abuse, sexual harassment — all of those are on the spectrum of interpersonal violence,” Staple said.
Perez noted not only that all those crimes are traumatic to the victims, but also that people who are victims of domestic violence can also be victims of sexual assault and rape by the same abuser.
By working together on these issues, the organizations can educate each other in understanding how to help clients with overlapping issues.
“I love the collaboration that we’re doing. We get to partner with each other. We get to educate each other and our staff,” Perez said.
Staple said it takes a whole village to help people in violent situations.
“It takes everyone really wrapping around someone who has experienced so many levels of trauma often throughout their lifespans,” she said.
Often times, victims of sexual violence are victimized early in life, she said, which, in part, puts them on a path to be exploited further; however, giving those young survivors all the services and resources they need will help them heal and get back onto a path for a successful life.
The problem is a lot more widespread than many people realize, Perez added. She said 1 in 4 women will experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime.
"I would encourage (people) to reach out," she said, "Whether it's just calling us to get information, calling us to be a resource. They don't necessarily need to call us because they are ready to leave and they need a bed. They can call us for information. ... We can connect them."
If you're experiencing domestic violence or sexual violence, contact:
SafeNest at 702-646-4981
Shade Tree 702-385-0072
Rape Crisis Center 702-366-1640
National Human Trafficking Hotline – 888-373-7888
Linda Perez, executive director, The Shade Tree; Daniele Staple, Rape Crisis Center
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