Giving Thought: Abusive situations are when sheltering in place can be dangerous

Tamara Tormohlen
Giving Thought
Tamara Tormohlen
Steve Mundinger

It is a known fact that when the economy takes a dive, stress levels rise and rates of domestic violence flare up.

So, when the first COVID-19 lockdowns occurred in March/April and the phones weren’t ringing at Response, which supports victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in the upper Roaring Fork Valley, Shannon Meyer knew something was wrong.

“When we didn’t see a spike in calls, it felt very ominous,” said Meyer, executive director for Response.

At the outset of the pandemic, the initial stay-at-home orders in Europe had triggered spikes in abuse, so it was doubly chilling for Meyer and her team to know that violence was occurring here in the valley, but victims were unable to reach for the phone because they were stuck inside with their abusers. And similar organizations across the state were seeing the same thing.

When Colorado moved from stay-at-home to safer-at-home and the most extreme measures were lifted, Response and other organizations experienced a surge in new clients and crisis calls. And the phones have been ringing ever since.

“Even though March and April were pretty low, we are now ahead of where we were at this time last year,” Meyer said. “At this point we’ve served 125 clients. Last year we’d served about 110.”

This is a strange, unsettling mixture of good and bad. Response has been able to support these victims, which is good, but continued economic instability, joblessness and sickness — not to mention drought, wildfires and other stressors — mean that domestic abuse is, sadly, alive and well.

“People are under stress and they take it out on the person who they’ve historically taken it out on,” Meyer said. “It’s still a challenge to get the word out.”

Meyer wants victims to know that Response is available to anyone in an abusive situation, and their services are free, confidential and bilingual. The 24-hour helpline is 970-925-SAFE (7233), and the website is If a victim is unable to speak at length on the phone, then meeting in a park is always an option. The pandemic has closed the Response office, but the organization remains ready to provide a full menu of support services — ranging from advice and therapy to emergency shelter and transitional housing — while also following public-health protocols.

Furthermore, Meyer reminded everyone to remain on the lookout during these challenging times for people who might be at risk. Domestic violence occurs in virtually every kind of household, regardless of income, race, religion, sexuality or any other characteristic. One in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, but men too can be victims.

“Don’t assume that domestic abuse is only that visible black eye,” she said. “Abuse can be in any relationship and it comes in so many forms — verbal, financial, sexual, psychological.”

Any pattern of behavior designed to establish power and control over another person through fear or intimidation qualifies as abuse. And this sort of behavior thrives in secrecy, behind closed doors. So, while staying at home during the COVID-19 pandemic has been vitally important for public-health reasons, it also has placed a subset of the population at risk.

Here’s how The New England Journal of Medicine stated it: “This pandemic has reinforced important truths: inequities related to social determinants of health are magnified during a crisis, and sheltering in place does not inflict equivalent hardship on all people.”

As we make our collective way through this difficult time, please bear in mind that not all hardships are limited to a certain demographic or are visibly apparent.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of Aspen Community Foundation.