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

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 third and final segment (minute 24:08), WMAR-2 News Baltimore’s Kelly Swoope was joined by the following experts as they answered the public’s questions and concerns:
  • Laura Clary, BSN, RN, FNE-A/P, SANE-A, Clinical Program Manager, SAFE and DV Program at GBMC
  • Ruby Parker, Assistant Director of Community Engagement, The Family Tree
  • Vanessa Milio, Executive Director, No More Stolen Childhoods
  • Lisa Nitsch, MSW, Director of Training and Education, House of Ruth Maryland

What should someone do if they know a person in a dangerous situation (domestic abuse, sexual assault, child abuse, etc.)?

  • Laura Clary: “Be there for them, listen to them, let them know that they are not alone, and be a helping hand during this difficult time. The SAFE and DV Program is always here 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.”
  • Lisa Nitsch: “Safety planning is very important as we know there are rooms in the home that are safer than others. We encourage victims to create a safe word that would be used with someone to indicate that you are in danger and need them to call 911. It is important to keep copies of important documents, clothes, keys, maybe a to-go bag that you could leave with a neighbor if you need to leave quickly.”

What do you expect to see after the COVID-19 pandemic is over?

  • Laura Clary: “The SAFE and DV Program is preparing for an increase in cases, especially those involving child abuse. Children will again have a safe person to speak with or the ability to tell a friend who can then tell a trusted adult.”
  • Ruby Parker: “As we reopen, it is going to be challenging with families returning to work. This is going to create another set of difficulties. Reaching out and supporting one another is always very important. The Family Tree offers resources for families including free childcare (4 hours a day) and there is more information on our website www.familytreemd.org.”
  • Vanessa Milio: “We hope to see that the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us all to learn the value of the safety nets we have and to teach us how to have tough conversations. It is not easy to talk to your children about child sexual abuse or predators online, but it is a conversation that needs to be had. We need to continue having these open and honest conversations that tap into assessing the mental health of others.”
  • Lisa Nitsch: “The House of Ruth is expecting to see an increase in the amount of training provided for those to recognize intimate partner violence and to identify available resources. We want to reiterate that everyone has a role to play in ending intimate partner violence in our community.”

What should someone do if they are isolated at home with their abuser?

  • Laura Clary: “Right now, this person probably feels very alone. And we want them to know that there are so many resources available to them. We are here to help, whether it’s online, over the phone, or in person. We want everyone to know that they are not alone.”
  • Vanessa Milio: “As humans, we are incredibly resilient. Childhood trauma takes a huge toll on your body and impacts every aspect of your life, but you can get past it. You can live beyond it and you are equipped with the ability to help someone else. Your scars and wounds from the past do not define you, they empower you to help someone else.”
  • Lisa Nitsch: “The House of Ruth encourages victims to reach out through any means that feel safe – social media, 24-hour helpline, etc. There are many ways the House of Ruth can help to get you out of your dangerous situation and into a safe place.”

What should someone do if they suspect child abuse is happening?

If anyone suspects that a child is being abused, the first step is to report it to authorities. Children cannot make this decision alone and they rely on adults to keep them safe. If a child tells you they are experiencing abuse, be there to listen to and support them. It is important to let them know that you are a trusted person. There are a number of resources available to you to help these children, many of which are listed at the bottom of the page.

What would you like the community to take away from this?

  • Laura Clary: “In a time where people feel very alone, know that you are not. There are a lot of people out there that care for you and are here to help you. You can always come to GBMC and we will take care of your healthcare needs, connect you to resources, and give you control of your healthcare.”
  • Ruby Parker: “We all realize parenting is very hard, it does not come with a rulebook or guide., and we are all experiencing a lot of challenges. Be sure to reach out to your neighbors, family, and friends when you need help.”
  • Vanessa Milio: “Having the conversation around childhood sexual abuse often means talking with your children about sex. If you are uncomfortable, own it. Be open and honest. Our children don’t need us to be perfect, they just need us to be present.”
  • Lisa Nitsch: “Ask questions. If you see something that make you uncomfortable, say something.”

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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