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A Special Virtual Town Hall with the SAFE & DV Program and Their Community Partners - Segment One

May 18, 2020
With millions staying at home to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus (COVID-19), victims of sexual assault, child abuse, and intimate partner violence are being put in situations where they are closer to their abusers than ever. In partnership with WMAR-2 News Baltimore, the Sexual Assault Forensic Examination (SAFE) and Domestic Violence (DV) Program at GBMC, House Of Ruth Maryland, Inc., The Family Tree, and No More Stolen Childhoods hosted a town hall to address the current challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resources available for victims.

In this segment, WMAR-2 News Baltimore’s Kelly Swoope was joined by Laura Clary, BSN, RN, FNE-A/P, SANE-A, Clinical Program Manager, SAFE and DV Program at GBMC, and Ruby Parker, Assistant Director of Community Engagement, The Family Tree. They answered the following questions:

How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting situations at home right now?

Ruby indicated that it is a very difficult time for many people due to the increased stress inside the home. Parenting is extremely challenging and sometimes that stress can be expressed in unhealthy ways. As Maryland’s leading prevention organization for child abuse and neglect, The Family Tree is here to provide free services throughout the state including free parenting classes and a 24-hour parenting helpline for those in need. This hotline can be reached at 1-800-243-7337 or parents can communicate through live chat at www.familytreemd.org.

Has there been a spike in cases since the COVID-19 pandemic?

“Unfortunately, because of the situation, we know it is hard for patients to get to us or one of our community partners safely. For that reason, we have not seen a spike in cases, our numbers are actually down,” Laura explained, “what we are seeing is an increase in the severity of violent attacks as victims are stuck in the home with abusers and they do not have a way to safely leave the situation.”

What is The Family Tree doing to provide resources?

The Family Tree knows parenting is tough and that this situation has escalated that difficulty for many people. Resources such as jobs, incomes, networks of friends, and support systems have been taken away due to the pandemic. The Family Tree is continuing to reach parents in any way they can including publishing an online blog, offering a 24-hour parenting helpline (1-800-243-7337), providing activities that are safe in the home, and giving additional support for parents who may need to talk about their situation. Ruby encouraged the community to reach out to parents with young children to give them extra support and establish personal connections. This can decrease their stress and help with their mental health.

What should someone do if they find themselves in a dangerous situation?

“There are a few different ways we are seeing patients when they come in to GBMC because we know how scary this situation is – it is not easy to see everyone in masks and face shields. For that reason, we have created ways to bypass the Emergency Department in certain situations,” said Laura. GBMC’s SAFE and DV Program can bring patients directly to their private, quiet, and secure suite if they do not require immediate medical attention. Forensic nurses and victim advocates continue to work with the Emergency Department through iPads that will allow providers to complete a telehealth assessment.

What is the SAFE and DV Program doing to protect their nurses?

The SAFE and DV Program continues to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to their nurses, victim advocates, and community partners. “We know this is a multidisciplinary approach and I feel very fortunate to be able to provide PPE for not only our nurses and advocates but also our community partners. This allows us to keep ourselves safe and ultimately keeps our patients safe as well,” Laura expressed.

What can family members who are not living with a person do if they are aware of an abusive situation at home?

“The most important thing for families right now is to have contact and interactions in a safe way. It is especially important to reach out to your family members and parents of young children to let them know you are here for them. Even as something as small as offering your support by dropping off a meal, books, or board games can be a huge help. The smallest gestures can have the biggest impact,” said Ruby.

GBMC urges all victims to seek help in whatever way is safest for them, whether it’s coming in, calling, or contacting resources online. A list of free 24-hour resources is included below.

Baltimore County Police Department
  • If you are in immediate danger, please call 911.
  • If 911 is not an option, have a family member or friend call the non-emergency number at 410-887-2222, email iwatch@baltimorecountymd.gov, or call the Special Victims Unit at 410-887-2223.
GBMC’s SAFE and DV Program – 443-849-3323, www.gbmc.org/safe-dv

The Family Tree (parenting helpline) – 1-800-243-7337 or live chat at www.familytreemd.org
  • Connects parents to resources to prevent child abuse and provides family counseling, children and youth services, and public policy and advocacy
Turn Around (helpline) – 443-279-0379, www.turnaroundinc.org
  • Provides therapeutic services to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence including legal advocacy, shelter, employment readiness, and case management
House of Ruth Maryland – 410-889-7884, www.hruth.org
  • Provides services to victims of intimate partner violence including emergency shelter, legal clinic services, counseling services, and abuse intervention
Family Crisis Center – Office: 410-285-4357 – Shelter: 410-285-7496

Baltimore County Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Hotline – 410-828-6390

SARC Harford County – 410-836-8430

National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1-800-799-7233
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