Story By: Holly V. Hays
This article contains discussion of domestic violence. If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or text LOVEIS to 22522.
When home was no longer an option, a hotel room became a safe haven.
The accommodations were sparse, but comfortable. Two queen beds — only one of them used — faced a television showing an endless scroll of channels. Near the door sat a kitchenette, with a refrigerator, microwave and small, single-burner range built into the counter top. On a nearby shelf sat a few seasoning blends and a nearly empty bottle of honey.
It wasn’t much, but Charlotte — whom IndyStar is identifying by first name only due to safety concerns — has called it home for the last month.
As reports of domestic violence have soared amid the coronavirus outbreak and shelters have slashed capacity to maintain social distancing, service providers have had to get creative to help Hoosiers escape dangerous situations. Using grant funding and individual donations, the Domestic Violence Network and Families First Indiana are partnering to provide extended-stay hotel rooms, free of charge, to those needing to escape a violent situation.
For Charlotte, it offered reprieve from a husband whose mental health struggles had contributed to a hostile, controlling, emotionally abusive environment. As someone who also experienced abuse in her first marriage, Charlotte knew it was necessary to remove herself before the situation escalated.
“It just became intolerable,” she said. “I can’t keep going through that. It was 25 years the first time, and this one will be four years. (I) can’t do another life sentence.”
‘I thought … it could be fixed’
When they got married, Charlotte said she was aware her second husband suffered from some mental health issues — she assumed he had depression, like she did — but two years in, she said she discovered he suffered from a far more serious diagnosis.
“He knew that if he told me, he was afraid that I was going to leave,” she said, “so he kind of hid it. He told me just enough.”
As the years went on, she said it seemed that he stopped taking his medication and became resistant to treatment. He began drinking heavily as a way to cope, she said, and that exacerbated his paranoia and further strained their marriage.
His mental illness makes him unpredictable, she said.
“Nice one day, in a rage the next day — or the next second,” Charlotte said.
She left once, about a year and a half ago, but spent just a few weeks at a friend’s house before returning home.
“She didn’t want me to go back and tried to encourage me to stay with her,” Charlotte said. “I thought that it could be repaired, it could be fixed. Maybe he’d realize what he’s doing and get some help.”
The final straw, she said, was when she asked him to remove weapons from the home and he put them on full display for her to see — and said he was going to “take (her) out.”
She sought refuge at a friend’s house, but later found herself hospitalized due to chest pains, where she opened up to her nurses about the abuse. When a social worker visited the room and asked if she felt unsafe, she said yes, and they were able to place her in a hotel room within a matter of hours.
It’s stressful to leave, she said, but it had to be done.
“I helped my husband a lot, through a lot of things, and he helped me, too,” she said, “but just the way he comes at you when he has those episodes make you feel like you’re nothing.”
‘There is hope, there is help’
In April, United Nations Chief António Guterres called for measures to address a “horrifying global surge of domestic violence” that was linked to stay-at-home orders and lockdowns by governments responding to the coronavirus crisis.
On a single day in 2018, the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence tracked 614 hotline calls for help and 2,071 individuals served by 47 participating domestic violence programs across the state.
In Indiana, the coronavirus outbreak certainly didn’t cause domestic violence, said Kelly McBride, executive director of the Domestic Violence Network, but shelters and service providers have seen astronomical increases in calls for help in recent weeks.
The Domestic Violence Network has received a 125% increase in calls for help compared to the same time last year, she said, and partner shelters have received at least a 25% increase in need.
“One thing to keep in mind with shelters is they’re full,” she said, “they’re almost always full — but now they’re operating at half capacity for social distancing.”
To meet those needs and offset the increased demands for shelter space, the Domestic Violence Network and Families First Indiana are partnering to administer grant funding that allows them to place adults, children and pets at an Indianapolis-area hotel for several weeks or until other housing arrangements can be made.
As of the beginning of June, they had placed eight adults, eight children and two dogs at the hotel and provided ongoing wraparound services such as counseling and case management during their stay.
So far, the costs have been covered thanks to $35,000 in grants provided by he Brave Heart Foundation and the Central Indiana Community Foundation. But at least one-third of that funding has already been spent, McBride said, so individual donors who feel inclined to do so are encouraged to reach out to DVN to supplement that funding.
McBride wants people to know that if they find themselves in a dangerous home situation, they are not trapped. There are resources and options available. Their work might look a little different, might be happening over Zoom calls or over the phone, but advocates are working around-the-clock to help Hoosiers escape dangerous situations, McBride said.
“There is hope, there is help,” she said. “It’s so important that we’re on these front lines and working with these individuals for whom it’s literally a matter of life and death.”
‘You can rise above’
In her attempts to leave her first marriage, Charlotte was homeless for about four years, off and on. During that time, she couch-surfed, stayed in shelters, was placed in transitional housing.
And although her life felt as if it were turned upside down, Charlotte found ways to comfort herself. She’s always been a fan of expensive perfumes, she said, but had to cut costs as her housing became unstable.
Rather than splurge on a whole bottle, she would get samples from Sephora. It may not have been the same, but it made her feel more like herself when the rest of her world felt like it was in pieces.
“There’s ways,” she said, “and little things you can do to just fight to get your life back.”
Her time at the hotel ends soon, and although she’s still working on the details of what might come next — she’s still receiving counseling and will hopefully stay with a family member until more permanent housing can be arranged — she’s looking forward to the future.
Her husband, who she says still refuses to seek treatment or help despite mental health diagnoses, still owns a gun.Eventually, she wants to use her voice to speak out against laws that allow those who are potentially dangerous to themselves or others to have firearms.
“When I get on my feet,” she said, “I want to do something about that.”
She also wants to work with more women and children who have suffered from domestic or sexual abuse, helping educate children about safety and bodily autonomy and empowering women to take control of their situations.
Her message to other victims of domestic abuse: You are worth more and can do more than what your partner has done to you or made you feel.
“You can rise above what you’re going through,” she said.
Domestic violence resources
If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911 for help. For more information or support, contact one of these local or national resources.
The Julian Center
The Julian Center, located at 2011 N. Meridian St., offers a safe haven for survivors of domestic and sexual violence. To learn more about supportive services or to contact the 24-7 crisis line, call 317-920-9320. For more information, visit juliancenter.org.
Domestic Violence Network
The Network’s website, dvnconnect.org, includes information for immediate resources, locally and nationally.
Families First Indiana
Counselors will work with you and family members to create a safety plan, help you with stress management and communication and talk about the signs of addictive relationships and violence. Call 317-634-6341 and ask to speak with a program assistant for domestic violence services. For more information, visit familiesfirstindiana.org.
Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence
ICADV’s website provides shelter information and resources for those seeking to leave a dangerous situation. For more information, visit icadvinc.org.
Hoosiers can call 211 or 866-211-9966 to be connected to resources and advocates near them 24/7. Learn more at in211.communityos.org.
National Domestic Violence Hotline
The Hotline has representatives available to counsel victims and survivors 24/7. Call 1-800-799-7233 or visit thehotline.org. If you’re unable to speak safely, visit the Hotline’s website or text LOVEIS to 22522.