Black Information Network
By Cherranda Smith
November 12, 2021
The family of Valerie Junius says the mother of six was going to leave her husband at the beginning of August when he shot and killed her in the doorway of their home in Katy, Texas.
“She was going to leave him. She was tired,” Junius’ cousin, Treshawnda Junius told ABC News 13. Junius had returned from her native Chicago after staying a month with friends and family.
“He knew it was over when she stayed in Chicago for as long as she stayed,” Treshawnda said. “He knew it was over. He killed her. He didn’t give her a chance.”
Unfortunately, Valerie Junius’ story is not unique. Over the last year, authorities in Katy, which is located just outside of Houston, have reported an uptick in intimate partner violence, adding to the data with the overall surge in violence seen in the past year since the pandemic began.
Across the country, experts and people who work with victims and survivors of intimate partner violence shared similar accounts, noting that the cost of COVID-19 is extremely high for people impacted by intimate partner violence and their families.
For Black women and girls, domestic violence is one of the highest leading causes of death, especially between the ages of 15 and 35. COVID-19 added to the burden of decision-making, safety planning, and the violence some people experienced.
“Unfortunately, what COVIDhas done is exacerbated some of the types of things you see in homes where intimate partner violence existed before COVID” Maisha Colter, CEO of Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse (AVDA), a Houston-based non-profit that provides legal services and trauma counseling to victims, told the Black Information Network in an interview.
“We saw a record number of cases specifically here at our organization where people sought protective orders in a way that they had not previously done,” Colter added.
‘The City That Never Sleeps, Went To Sleep’
In New York City, Kelly Coyne, Deputy Chief Program Officer of Safe Horizon, the nation’s largest victim services provider, described to BIN how the organization had to quickly adapt its outreach while being the epicenter of the pandemic.
“We saw some pretty significant changes here in the city,” Coyne said. The first being that “the city that never sleeps, went to sleep,” Coyne explained, adding that while messages to “stay at home, social distancing,” also “translated to survivors thinking that victims services agencies were also closed or not available.”
“If you look at our data, it does not look like domestic violence went up in the city,” Coye said. “Calls to hotlines went down, visits to our office went down, but we know that what was happening behind closed doors is that survivors were definitely in need of help and services.” To adjust, Safe Horizon “quickly pivoted” and launched a chat platform so that someone sheltering in place with a person causing harm could reach out without having to make a phone call.
How A Housing Crisis Can Lead to a Safety Crisis
Tangela Ferguson, associate director of Project SAFE in Athens, Georgia noted similar trends in decreased calls to the organization’s hotline, and that limited affordable housing options has left some survivors and victims of intimate partner violence without much choice of where to go even after they are able to leave the situation.
On the topic of housing, Ferguson described a “disheartening” reality of fighting to extend moratoriums to help people stay in their homes, particularly for survivors of domestic violence.
“For a while and still, we were fighting these moratoriums, we wanted people be to able to stay in their homes and people not get evicted, which is what we absolutely want –– these moratoriums to be extended –– … that also left survivors who are trying to get out and have somewhere to go with no where to go,” Ferguson said.
One survivor who Ferguson spoke to on the organization’s hotline said she’d been trying to leave since March but that “every housing place that I applied to was full.”
“Along with that, shelters were either closed or the number of people they were allowing to be in there decreased,” Ferguson said, because of social distance and other pandemic-related mandates.
“We don’t people to be evicted,” Ferguson said, “but we also need for survivors to be able to apply for housing.”
The Intersection Of Race, Substance Use, Income, And Domestic Violence
Alivia Curl, Supervisor of Therapeutic Services Program at the STEPS to End Family Violence organization broke down how domestic violence is a layered issue that often includes an intersection of factors including race, income, and substance use.
“This isn’t an economic issue, it isn’t a race issue, at its heart, but as many things in America, those things are tied into each other and therefore it is tied into this subject as well, being that many folks of color, especially Black folks, have a greater economic strain in this country which means their relationships are under greater strain,” Curl explained.
“Even when we think about substance use and alcohol use, Black neighborhoods have … higher prevalence due to a many of factors,” she added, noting that this webbed interaction of factors “that cause or can lead to more dangerous situations where harm is caused and more instance of abuser violence.”
When asked what she wants people to know about intimate partner violence particularly as we near two full years of being in a pandemic, Curl said first that “it really can happen to any body.”
“Support from family and friends is one of the biggest factors for when people are actually ready to leave the relationship,” Curl said, adding that we should check in people and really check in.
“We’re all in varying states of isolation, checking on those friends” can go a long way, she said. Curl suggested that people can create space for those who may not haven’t been out in a while without their partner to ask how they’re really doing.