Story by: Kirsten Fiscus
Wearing a mask can save lives.
Masks are widely believed to help slow the spread of COVID-19 which could ultimately lead to greater reopening and a step back to life before coronavirus.
It’s the second part that Marjorie Baker is concerned with.
Reopening the state could mean the difference between life or death for a victim of domestic violence. Locally, it’s been the difference between victims coming forward for help.
“Because of the dynamic of this pandemic — safer at home and not gathering in crowds, isolating yourself — it’s the safest way for the pandemic to not spread but one of the most dangerous concepts for victims of violence,” Baker said.
Baker, the director of One Place Family Justice Center, said in the months when state restrictions were at their highest, there was a considerable decrease in the number of victims seeking assistance. In April, 32 clients came into the center. About the same followed the next month, Baker said.
“But that doesn’t mean instances of domestic violence aren’t happening,” Baker said. “Nationally there’s been about a 20% to 30% increase in cases. Locally, we’re pretty close to that.”
Months away from celebrating 10 years serving the public, the center offers a “one-stop shop” for victims of domestic violence. At the center, a victim can speak with a police officer should they decide to press charges; there are nurses trained specifically to provide sexual assault forensic exams, attorneys who can advise clients on protection orders, emergency shelter representatives and victim advocates who provide comfort and advice through the process.
The center also assists victims of child and elder abuse.
At all times the victim is in control of who to speak with and what actions to take, Baker said. One safety plan does not fit all, and any documents and notes taken are kept in a file should a victim decide to take any action they previously declined before.
While the Safer-At-Home order is the right thing to combat a pandemic, it’s may not be the right thing for a victim of domestic violence.
“Victims who feel isolated feel like they don’t have options to reach out to, they might have limited income from being out of work right now and there’s uncertainty about the future. All that increases the severity of violence,” Baker said. “Victims are in more danger and a perpetrator has more access, more control.”
But as the state has reopened, the center has seen an increase in clients. In June, the center helped 45 clients and halfway through July they would have assisted 30 people.
“Our goal is to eliminate homicide. Our goal is to not have another one, after our recent loss of someone who was trying to serve and protect,” Baker said, referring to Montgomery police Det. Tanisha Pughsley who was killed in an apparent domestic violence related shooting.
And the resources are available to anyone, regardless of economic status, race, culture and creed, Baker said.
“A victim cannot control or stop someone who must have power and control. That’s what domestic violence is about, power and control,” Baker said. “That’s why the resources are out here for victims to reach out to.”
No matter what happens during the pandemic, the center is open.
“We never closed,” Baker said. “At a time when it’s important to just stay home, we want victims of domestic violence to know we’re still open. We’re here to help. This issue is getting lost in the pandemic and lives are getting lost. We’ve got a lot of things going on but losing lives unnecessarily to family violence is an issue.”
Anyone seeking assistance from the center can stop by at their office at 530 South Lawrence Street. Victims can also call 334-262-7378 or the sexual assault 24-hour crisis line, 334-213-1227.
Anyone seeking help, or for those who’d like to donate to the center can find information at https://www.oneplacefjc.org/.