COVID-19 is having a deep impact on our world, but in so many more ways than we ever could have predicted. Initially, when we heard about a health crisis overseas it sounded somewhat removed from us. However, we have watched in horror as it has swept across the world, leaving total destruction in its wake.
The evening news constantly highlights how significant an impact it has had on our healthcare system and the overwhelming loss of life that has resulted from this horrible virus. However, beyond the tragic loss of life, it has become very apparent that there are a number of other disturbing issues that are surfacing.
We are all very well acquainted now with the term “social (or physical) distancing.” This has been enforced very strictly across many countries as our global health leaders have told us it is the only way to stop the virus in its tracks. So, we stay at home. We hide. We hope that by shutting ourselves off from the rest of society, the virus will have no one to attack and it will die.
But as we hide away in our houses, what is happening behind closed doors? Pornography is on the rise, domestic violence is increasing, and the number of child abuse cases being reported is distressing. Mental health care workers are overwhelmed with increased need for support from their clients. We are sitting in fear, hiding from an invisible virus. And as we hide out, boredom, anger, sadness, and fear have become the enemies. They are causing the darkest part of humanity to come out of hiding and attack.
Domestic violence has been on the rise over the past few years. Our shelters cannot keep up. As noted by Statistics Canada, there has been a 69 percent jump from 2014 to 2018 on the number of people turned away each day from shelters across Canada. On average, 911 people are turned away each day across Canada. Eighty percent of the time the reason people are turned away is due to lack of space in shelters. What happens now when shelters are having to reassess their accommodations to meet COVID-19 health standards?
People living in domestic violence situations often have a plan in place to leave. They take their time, save their money, create their exit plan. This is not an easy decision and often involves a great deal of support from friends and support workers. Often, to manage their current violent relationship, they develop strategies to get through the day: errands, visiting friends, work responsibilities. As we are quarantined as a whole continent, what does this mean for the person living in an abusive situation? What happens to their well-crafted exit plan? What happens to their ability to get through each day?
In addition, we can all attest to the fact that there is significant stress we all face daily in light of a global pandemic. Many have faced job loss, significant illness, fear about the ability to purchase basic necessities to name just a few of the stressors that are our current reality. Violence propagates in stressful times. When one feels powerless to the world, the response can be to lash out, and for some people, that means abusing those closest to themselves. Those who work with domestic violence cases are bracing for an epidemic of a much different kind than what we are being warned about by the World Health Organization.
- CNN Health: Domestic violence victims, stuck at home, are at risk during coronavirus pandemic
- From Poverty to PowerHow to stop Coronavirus Lockdown Leading to an Upsurge in Violence Against Women
- A Survivor’s Perspective on a Pandemic
- The Globe and Mail: For some women, home is as dangerous as the virus
While some kids were jumping for joy at the initial prospect of school vacation lasting a little longer than expected because of this virus people were talking about, other kids were starting to panic. For a significant number of children in North America, school is a safe haven. School means they get to have food at breakfast club and it means they are safe from the physical and sexual abuse they are witnessing or enduring at home.
The common safety measures that have been keeping abuse at bay to some extent—teachers watching for signs of abuse, social workers checking in on high risk families—are not happening any longer. Many health care workers have been sidelined because of the virus. Some are resorting to virtual meetings with families they support, but they are well aware that many things can be hidden outside the computer screen.
Already there have been sad reports of extreme child abuse that health care workers are dealing with in the emergency rooms that are now littered with people sick with COVID-19. There is a great unrest among mental health workers as they acknowledge the fact that the longer this global crisis lasts, the more financial disaster we face, the more danger our children are in.
- USA Today: Children more at risk for abuse and neglect amid coronavirus pandemic, experts say
- CTV News: Child abuse a big concern during COVID-19 outbreak
Mental Health Needs
We know that God created us to be in community. Right now that has become increasingly hard to do and we have needed to redefine how community looks right now. We can no longer be with each other in church, stop over for coffee at a friends house, or meet up at a playground with our kids. Not only that, as we sit isolated in our homes, we are inundated with updates on the loss of life related to the virus. This is causing significant pressure on our ability to cope day to day. It is important that we are all aware of the impact a global crisis can have our our mental health, and of those around us.
We encourage you to read Stress and Coping, an article written by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. It highlights signs of stress, how to manage them, when to reach out for support, who to reach out to and many other important pieces of information related to making sure we are managing our mental health.
Many lovely videos of Italians sitting on their balconies, singing and playing music, have flooded the internet lately as Italy is living through a national lockdown. The darker side of this lockdown that is happening in Italy is that they are seeing a massive spike in porn use. This is in part due to PornHub offering 30 days free to users. This is heartbreaking. Jay Stringer, a voice we highly respect in Safe Church, talks about the challenge of living through a pandemic and how anxiety and loneliness can lead people to turn to porn. In his article: Coronavirus, Porn and Anxiety: How Three Pandemics Converged talks frankly about the challenges, how to address them and how to work through them.
Break the Cycle offers an excellent article for parents on Talking to your child about pornography. As our our children are shifting to on-line learning platforms to complete their studies, be vigilant. Have the hard conversations with them about what sites they are browsing. (when they are supposed to be completing their assignments!) Make sure you are monitoring your children’s internet use now more than ever. Set boundaries for them so they can grow up learning how to set boundaries for themselves.
Support for you
One of our partner organizations, Dove’s Nest, has created a wonderful resource for this very difficult time: Are the Kids OK? 11 Ways to Keep Children and Youth Safe While They’re at Home. In it they have provided a number of positive ways to connect with children and families, offering them support as they navigate life in isolation together. They offer many resources about how to keep kids safe at home - such as managing their technology, how to talk to kids about this crisis and how to stay socially connected to friends and church families. They also provide information on mental health and other support services for families.
GRACE - Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment, Created a recorded webinar: Child Safeguarding and Survivor Care During COVID-19. The presenters discussed the reality of abuse as we live isolated from community throughout this pandemic. Discussion focused on how to manage depression and anxiety, dealing with grief, paying attention to our communities we are part of and reaching out to support others. While we very much in a virtual reality currently, how can we ensure that we are giving and getting support properly? Hosted by Boz Tchividjian (Executive Director of GRACE), panelists for this conversation included:
- Victor Vieth - An abuse prevention professional and author of "On This Rock: A Call to Center the Christian Response to Child Abuse on the Life and Words of Jesus"
- Laura Thien - A licensed social worker in clinical practice at a rape crisis and NCA-accredited Children’s Advocacy Center.
- Justin Holcomb - An Episcopal priest and teaches theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary and has co-authored "God Made All of Me: Helping Children Protect Their Bodies"
- Rachael Denhollander - Rachael Denhollander is recognized as a leading voice on the topic of sexual abuse and the author of "What is a Girl Worth?"
How You Can Help?
Make your voice heard!
Our colleagues at the Office of Social Justice have created the campaign: Hear Us Out - Protect the Vulnerable - as a way for us to respond as a community of faith in light of all these issues that have been discussed in this article. We would ask you to take the time to contact your government and demand action be taken to safeguard our most vulnerable.
Pray without ceasing
Safe Church Ministry works very closely with the Office of Social Justice. They have written a series of prayers that we can offer to God in these unprecedented times. You can choose to pray collectively using their words, or simply cry out to God with your own words. We would encourage you to follow as God leads you.
You may also sign up for the Safe Church prayer guide and receive monthly email prayer updates from Safe Church Ministry. Email [email protected] with the message, I want to pray for Safe Church.
Connect with our Resources
Our ministry has a number of helpful resources that are available for you and your church. Here are a few resources we feel are very relevant to our current situation: