It is a beautiful Monday in Humboldt County, one of those days where the blue accentuates the deep green ridge of the tree line and reminds one of the grandeur that surrounds us. And for school districts and their communities, this gorgeous day kicks off the beginning of spring break. I have the interesting vantage as an educational administrator watching teachers and educational specialists work tirelessly to provide meaningful distance learning opportunities for their students. Additionally, I am a parent of a child engaged in distance learning during her school's closure. My daughter's teacher is among many in this community who deserves a standing ovation for their efforts to virtually engage students and infuse social emotional care while providing opportunities to move academic skills forward. I'd love teachers to have a moment of acknowledgment like the 8 p.m. howl happening in neighborhoods globally in appreciation of our courageous health workers.
Spring break as an ideal conjures thoughts of traveling, sleeping in, loosening the routine and having fun. But for many during this unprecedented time, it feels like just another week at home as we cross the one-month mark of shelter in place. The quarantine has lost its novelty and things are getting real.
Local public health officials have echoed the national recommendation to wear masks or face coverings when leaving the house. While it seems this is only being adhered by some, we should give credit to the creative, industrious folks in our community. There are some awesome homemade masks out there. (My family was bestowed masks by a close friend and colleague, and my daughter likes hers so much she wants to go on walks just to show it off!) Public access points are being shut and social distancing — even on a day you just want to have a barbecue — remains in full swing. As we round April and look toward Memorial Day, the desire is to gather. If things are challenging at home, that desire to get out will be even more intense. But it is not time to let our guard down.
As I write this, many of us share in the quiet celebration of a string of days with no new identified COVID-19 cases in Humboldt County. This may be in part due to our community's ability to step up and mind important social distancing practices. I have heard some are concerned that because of the lull in cases, there may be a loosening of vigilance. So let us celebrate with continued practice: Cover-up and be mindful of the essential need to maintain the protocols of social distancing and shelter in place.
If there were a universal prayer for every household and for every individual during this time, it would for safety and protection. That's the very point of sheltering in place but what happens when one's shelter isn't safe? Among the most concerning of the host of issues during this time is the rise of domestic violence. Domestic violence is a deeply concerning social issue at any time, and to read about its increased intensity during this time is both disturbing and — horribly — not surprising. For domestic disturbances to occur, people need to be in proximity to one another. We have a current mandate to stay at home, so the potential for domestic violence unfortunately increases in stressed homes. I read that in Japan there have been public service announcements providing instructions of specific code words people should say so when a victimized person goes to a pharmacy they can signal their need for help. I froze for a moment when I read this, as this global dynamic sunk in. This must be talked about, must be outed. This is something that must be discussed by every person, of any gender identification, of any culture. We have to do what we can as a community to support those who are victimized.
Just this morning, a cadre of more than two dozen U.S. Senators demanded that the next COVID-19 bailout bill prioritize domestic violence survivors. This nonpartisan bill recognizes the vulnerability of victims of sexual assault and family violence during the shelter in place orders across the country. It asserts that during this time of national (global) emergency, individuals may experience an increased rate of victimization. With this increase is the fact that rates are vastly underestimated because of the insidiously silent nature of this form of violence and reduced access to reporting. Shelter in place has compounded the issues surrounding reporting and accessing support, which have always been challenges to addressing domestic violence. These senators are pushing for increased funding for family violence shelters and national violence hotlines, and urging the Department of Justice to provide additional funding to agencies and divisions that actively support and outreach to individuals who may be suffering from domestic violence.
Locally, a vital resource is the Humboldt Domestic Violence Services (www.hdvs.org), which is considered an essential service and remains open to serve clients during shelter in place. Its support line is 443-6042 or toll free at (866) 668-6543. The HDVS website states, "HDVS is an independent, nonprofit agency dedicated to promoting the rights and welfare of those who have survived or are enduring domestic and intimate partner violence or sex trafficking throughout Humboldt County." The organization's services are free of charge.
There are primary and potentially secondary victims of this form of violence. Individuals may feel isolated and distanced from support. Children or other witnesses are likely secondary victims who also need support and protection. This type of violence — which can be physical, sexual, emotional, verbal and/or financial in nature — is based on power and control, and perpetuates a power imbalance.
As a community, we need to heighten our awareness and protection of our families, friends and neighbors. It is important not to remain silent in the face of concern or suspicion. Like what they are doing in Japan, we need to help open the door and create spaces to givepeople experiencing domestic violence an opportunity to ask for assistance and help. Together we can help tighten the net of support and move toward creating a safer community. Additional resources: Call the Humboldt Family Service Center at 443-7358, or 911 in the case of emergency.
Take care and be well.
Dr. Peter Stoll is a credentialed school psychologist and administrator and prefers he/him pronouns. He is a program director for the Humboldt County Office of Education and the Humboldt-Del Norte SELPA.