REGIONAL — While many members of area communities are taking advantage of social distancing to enjoy extra family time or a more flexible schedule, for others, Gov. Tim Walz's stay-at-home order means they are stuck inside with a domestic abuser.

"We know that home is not a safe place for everyone," said Southwest Crisis Center associate director Kari Voss-Drost. An order like this is designed to ensure general public safety but "can leave some vulnerable people extra vulnerable," she added.

Voss-Drost noted that the crisis center is still operating, just with added social distancing where possible. Most services are offered by phone, but state law requires a number of actions to happen in person, such as applications for the state's address confidentiality program Safe at Home, or removal of a domestic violence victim to a safe house.

Both Voss-Drost and Becky Smith, the communications director for Violence Free Minnesota, emphasized that if someone is in immediate danger, the best thing to do is call 9-1-1.

Southwest Crisis Center operates a 24-hour SAFE Line available at 1-800-376-4311. However, being at home with an abuser might prevent a victim from making a phone call.

"The safest place (to make a call) may be the bathroom with the faucet turned on," Smith suggested.

If a phone call just isn't possible, Voss-Drost said victims can use the text line at (218) 666-8336. This line is normally reserved for teenagers, but if needed, it can connect an adult with a crisis center advocate.

Some abusers control and/or monitor a victim's phone usage, so even a text line is not helpful in some cases.

"If it's possible to go to a scheduled doctor's appointment, consider telling the health care worker about what is happening," Smith advised.

"Otherwise," she said, "we encourage victims/survivors to reach out to someone they trust: a friend, family member, neighbor — someone they can turn to and depend on for nonjudgmental support. Let this trusted person know what is happening. If you are that trusted person, listen to the person being harmed, believe them and resource yourself with information."

Voss-Drost added that it's vital — especially during the stay-at-home order — for everyone to "be mentally present for friends and family who they know may struggle with violence in their home."

Smith shared a few suggestions compiled by the organization Sanctuary for Families:

  • Come up with a code word, and identify a couple of people you can share it with. Plan what these people should do if you send them the code word.
  • If no room at your home feels safe, decide which is the "safest room" — preferably a room with no weapons and with an exit. During a conflict, go to the safest room.
  • Plan a body signal or code word with your children that means they should go to the safest room.
  • If you experience regular domestic violence, let law enforcement know about this history and that you're concerned about being isolated in your home.

A more complete list of possible actions for domestic violence victims during a stay at home order is available at sanctuaryforfamilies.org/safety-planning-covid19/.

Voss-Drost added that the crisis center is considering other tools that may prove useful during these unique circumstances, as well as staying informed about resources available from law enforcement, the court system, Health and Human Services, and housing and transportation providers. Southwest Crisis Center services will be available remotely for the duration of the novel coronavirus outbreak.