Domestic violence calls to shelters like HAVEN, of Oakland County, have dramatically increased since the COVID-19 pandemic began, but what’s behind the drastic rise in reports of domestic and sexual abuse, and why have Black women been disproportionately affected by it?

Host Stephen Henderson sits down for an in-depth conversation with MiVida Burrus of HAVEN, a shelter that provides comprehensive services and programs for domestic violence and sexual assault victims. They talk about some of the reasons behind the uptick in the number of victims seeking help, the ways Black women have been disproportionately affected by abuse in the home, and the resources HAVEN offers to help abuse survivors.

Full Transcript: 

Stephen Henderson: You know, I feel like domestic violence, sexual assault, these are things that are with us all the time. They are problems that we don’t focus on as much as we probably should. But I am intrigued by the idea that things have gotten worse during the pandemic, I guess, I can’t say I’m terribly surprised. But let’s start with why we think this is an even bigger problem or has been an even bigger problem over the last two years.

MiVida Burrus, Director of Development, Haven: Well, number one, the pandemic has created a space where there is even more isolation. So, one of the major things with intimate partner violence and domestic violence is that isolation. You’re slowly cultivated into stepping away from your family and spending more time with your abuser. And then, with the pandemic, in that period of lockdown and shut-in, it became more pervasive. So, we found, at Haven we found that our crisis line cause increased from family and friends.

How do I extract them from that situation? But there’s nowhere to go. The hoteling had shut down, we also were seeing an increase of intake. So, it was harder for people to get out and get extracted. One of the major things that we found during this pandemic period is, that was the perfect storm for an abuser. They’re not working, they’re at home more. As we know, with abuse, every little thing is orchestrated, and it’s meticulous, and it is manipulative to the point where, you know, just cooking the wrong meal could be an issue. So, that became cause for more, as you see in media, more fatalities. Because we’re together 24/7 in an already scary and volatile situation. So, you know, Haven, we saw that uptick. Our resource calls came in.

We were trying to help everyone, especially parents and family members with resources in community that would help. But again, for a survivor of domestic violence, that choice is ultimately theirs of when they can leave, how they can leave, and even safety for their family and friends, because the abuser is going to then start lashing out in those ways.

Stephen Henderson: Yeah. And so, places like Haven, of course, then take on added importance at a time like this, because as you point out, it’s harder for people to go anywhere to get away. And so, someplace like Haven ends up with more people, I would imagine, than it normally would. Give us a sense of, I guess, the range and the scope of the problems that you’re seeing. I’m really particularly interested in these numbers that suggest that for black women in particular, domestic abuse and sexual assault are much bigger problems than for other parts of the population.

MiVida Burrus: Typically, what is typical is, in a situation with an African American woman, a black woman or a person of color, the impetus is, well it was just the fight, or they were just having a discussion. Whereas with our counterparts, our white, you know, I don’t want to just label it as women, our white victims or our white survivors, they’re more believed, right, that this was an issue, this was a problem, the nature of the problem is escalating. So, what we found, is a lot of the people who come to us, we are the first call. We are the ones who believe, we believe this is happening to you and we invite you in to either have a conversation, we do our crisis line cause.

The impact for black women, and particularly lower-income women, is we don’t call right away because we know what that may do to a black male. So, we will sit in a situation just a tad bit longer, and then again, it goes back to, well, why didn’t you leave or why? You know, what do we say? Well, why didn’t you call earlier? Well, because who are you going to believe when you get here? Because we’re both black. So that has been kind of the scope in the scenario when we’re a little bit trepidatious about calling. But the violence is real; the violence has always been real.

It is a societal issue, and it’s not just a problem for black people, or white people, or Asians, it is a societal problem in the way that we handle our relationships and conversations with one another. But when you look at who we serve at Haven, the plethora of the people who come in are African American Black women with children, a number of children, small children, toddler age children, and they are lower income. With a household to moderate to high income, they typically have funds where they can just get counseling from us or they can get that kind of support or help from family members, right, because they can lawyer up and they can do those things. But at Haven, that’s what we do. When you come to us, we provide you with advocacy in the courts, we pay for PPOs, we pay for your clothes, your food, transportation, if your tags aren’t right, we pay for those types of things. Because we know the barriers to extracting yourself from that situation is typically financial.

There is some emotional abuse, but it’s typically financial and its heart-based, right. How am I going to leave with my children and also with my pet? Because I’m not going to leave my dog or cat to that situation. And we welcome them in, and we say, come in and we’ll take care of everything for you. So, we do the document retrieval, we make sure that, you know, if you needed SNAP benefits, we’re helping you fill that paperwork out. If your children need to go to school, we help you with schooling. And you know, Pontiac public schools has been amazing because they help us with that, and they make sure that those families are protected, and they know that we’re there; so we try to keep them safe. However, Stephen, we are open facility.

There’s no gates, no bars, no, you know, we have protection, we are protected, but we are open because abusers do not come to us in Oakland County, 5 minutes from the sheriff’s department, to create that abuse. So, our, the families that come to us, and we do accept men as well, because men are also abused, the families that come to us are highly protected. And we are highly confidential, so even if my child came, they couldn’t tell me. So, we keep all of that under wraps. 45% of the women who come to us cross 8 Mile Road; they are families from Detroit. And we help them set up, we help them get in their apartments.

We have four transitional houses, so some of them qualify for housing. We’re trying to expand that program right now, so we’re working with the partner to make that happen. And we work with other partnerships within Pontiac. And we’re talking to real estate companies because there’s a bunch of homes that are vacant that we will help renovate and get those families in there. But our message and our goal is empowerment. You make the decision for you because that is the issue with domestic violence and sexual assault, power and control.

They are trying to take power and control your movements and the people you talk to and the things that you do. And we also do workforce development and try to help them with their resumé building and skill building, because we want people to feel and live a life of safety. We want you to feel safe wherever you go. But even after you leave us, we’re still there. And we do up to two years’ worth of counseling after they leave. Now, speaking of counseling, our calls for counseling, we have a waitlist of over 100 people just for counseling. And that, we continue to expand that program. And we go out in the community, right now we are in Royal Oak public schools, we are opening our doors to Southfield public schools, and we are in classrooms trying to prevent sexual assault and domestic abuse through education. So, we have a whole team that goes out.

We just recently signed a partnership with Bank of America, and we will be doing some community work to talk about the social issue and how we can prevent it in our children, so that it eradicates itself, basically. So, I’ll be out of a job, but at least people will be safe, and we know that they’re always safe.

Stephen Henderson: Yeah.

MiVida Burrus: Education is important.

Stephen Henderson: That is absolutely the key. And as you say, starting early is really the key. Okay, MiVida Burrus of Haven, it was really great to have you here on American Black Journal. Thanks so much for stopping by.


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