Feature photo: Photo by Tumisu.
Domestic violence cases in Acadiana continue to rise during COVID-19, forcing some victims to seek counseling while others may adapt to the abuse.
Melissa Bowen, a licensed professional counselor and supervisor, said her colleagues in the psychiatric community have reported and discussed the rise in domestic violence cases among other mental illnesses during the COVID-19 period. She said she felt the psychiatric community in Acadiana “pivoted quickly” during COVID-19 and “rallied to meet the demand” of clients seeking help during and after quarantine.
“I think we’re going to be seeing a lot of consequences of our [COVID-19] season that we don’t know what to expect yet,” Bowen said.
According to Bowen, the increase in domestic violence cases is due to people being unable to leave their homes during quarantine. She said victims may have been stuck at home with their abuser and without resources.
As someone who witnessed domestic abuse in his community growing up, Lafayette Parish councilman Abraham “AB” Rubin Jr. seeks to educate and raise awareness about domestic violence in Acadiana.
“There is not enough awareness. No one wants to talk about what’s happening behind closed doors until someone dies,” Rubin said, “[Change] starts with an idea and a conversation, then we figure [out] what we can do about that.”
Bowen suggests keeping an eye out for those around you when it comes to domestic abuse.
“Look for changes in personality and demeanor, and that goes for any mental health crisis in the people you relate to. Notice things about them,” Bowen said, “Give people the safe space to talk and open up.”
“If you have a concern, then ask. Don’t be afraid of the awkward questions,” Bowen said.
According to Rubin, abuse victims are in “uncharted waters” and may have trouble reaching out for professional or personal help because they never encountered an abusive situation and cannot recognize it as abuse.
While victims become masterful at hiding signs of abuse, abusers are masterful at cutting off the emotional support for the victim and destroying the victim’s sense of self, according to Bowen. She said the impulse domestic violence abusers feel to blame and hurt a loved one is internal.
“[Abusers] were never taught how to understand, regulate or identify their own emotions, so it gets projected in the worst ways to the people in their lives,” Bowen said, “It could be them acting out trauma they experienced as a child. It’s what they knew so it’s a pattern they are repeating.”
According to Bowen, abusers will often not know their behavior is abusive.
“It’s challenging to find what will be the wake-up call for someone to wake up to the destruction of those choices. A lot of times its legal ramifications or boundaries set by the family. They need some kind of wake-up call that the way they are responding to a loved one, whether it’s physical, sexual or emotional abuse is inappropriate.”
Rubin said legal ramifications are what police consider to be a “good wake-up call”. People arrested for domestic violence are typically held for 48 hours, then released, according to the councilman. He said “the part after the 48 hours” is what he worries about. Officers on the scene will offer the victim options but it is ultimately up to the victim to pursue them. Bowen said she has not lost faith that some abusive relationships can be repaired under certain conditions.
“Once that gate is open, it makes it easier to [perform the abuse] again if not addressed immediately by both parties,” Bowen said, “If the abuser can take full responsibility for their actions, acknowledge the inappropriateness of their actions and show repeated patterns of choosing healthy positive interactions [the relationship could be repaired].”
After abuse has taken place, a repaired relationship is determined by how safe the relationship is and if trust between partners is possible, according to Bowen.
“Both parties have to be honest and accountable,” Bowen said.
Bowen said, as a victim of an emotionally abusive relationship, she had to first acknowledge the abuse for herself. She implores other victims to seek help and said it can be anonymous or confidential.
“There is help out there. There is therapeutic support or group support where you will, at least, not feel alone in your circumstances. It’s not like everyone is going to say ‘let’s get you out of there’ or ‘confront your abuser’ because that’s the scariest thing. There is support out there. Find it in the safest manner you can,” Bowen said.
If you are a victim of domestic violence call the 24-hour, toll-free Louisiana Domestic Violence Hotline 1-888-411-1333 or 911 for an emergency.
For more information about domestic violence aid in Acadiana, visit the Faith House Domestic Violence Crisis Center’s website.