But when schools closed in March, she couldn’t go to her job as a school art therapist and the boys stayed home, watching the rage of their mom’s boyfriend build and burst.
“Because of covid, there was no escape,” she said. “And my sons saw the abuse. And the fear I saw in their eyes was the same fear I had in my eyes when I was little and put in foster care.”
Like this mom, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she was scared that her abuser would find her, thousands of others saw dangerous relationships worsen when the pandemic shrank their worlds.
It was her pastor who sensed the woman’s plight and pointed her toward the House of Ruth, where she could stay in a safe house.
Since the shutdown began in March, the House of Ruth has moved 16 women, many with children, into its emergency shelters, said Elizabeth Kiker, development director for the D.C.-based nonprofit organization.
That’s the same number it moved in last year during this time. Except this year, it had double the number of requests, she said.
So it’s perfect timing that House of Ruth this week opened Kidspace, a beautiful facility where these children — and the others who will follow as the pandemic drags on — have a place to safely play, learn and heal.
The same surge in abuse during the pandemic happened at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, where radiologists found nearly double the “total number of victims sustaining injuries due to strangulation, stab injuries, burns or use of weapons such as knives, guns and other objects” this spring compared to the same period during the past two years, according to a study published in the journal Radiology.
The number of reported abuse cases, however, dropped by nearly half at the hospital, according to the study.
The paper trails aren’t being made, but the bodies of abused women are telling the real story. They’re trapped. And it’s harder to get help.
The counselors at House of Ruth knew this was going to happen — more abuse, fewer opportunities for escape. They’d have to find a new way to operate.
“Our staff was like doctors and nurses going into a war zone,” Executive Director Sandra Jackson said.
They received more calls for help as soon as the shutdown happened, but the counseling sessions were cut short — women didn’t feel safe talking while trapped at home with their abusers, who might overhear a call for help.
“We had to find a way to talk to them,” Jackson said. “So we helped people find a way to take a walk away and make the call, or we found a safe word they can use on the phone or text when they were in trouble, like telling them: ‘Say toilet paper if you need to talk right now or if you can’t stay there any longer.’ ”
The pandemic — and the high unemployment rate, evaporated savings, and the