If your job involves regularly helping customers, right now is a critical time to be watching out for signs that a customer may be experiencing violence.
By Brooke Ely-Milen, Domestic Violence Program, Colorado Department of Human Services
If your job involves regularly helping customers, right now is a critical time to be watching out for signs that a customer may be experiencing violence. Survivors of violence may no longer have a private moment to make a call for assistance other than their interaction with you in a pharmacy, grocery store, or curbside service. If someone you encounter expresses concern they are not safe at home, there are ways you can help.
For example, Advocates for Victims of Assault in Summit County recently announced an initiative called “Mask-19”. The initiative provides training for pharmacists to help them recognize the signs of abuse and inform customers that they can use the code word “Mask-19” if they are in trouble and need help. If a survivor uses the code word, a pharmacist will help find a safe space for the individual to talk privately or make a phone call. Although this training is currently available only in Summit County, other innovative efforts may be in place elsewhere.
You can easily replicate this kind of initiative whether or not you are a pharmacist or work at an essential service like a food bank or grocery store. For example, if you are a landlord or have neighbors, you can do your part by becoming familiar with the signs of abuse, checking in on your tenants and neighbors, and asking about their safety. If someone is not safe at home, connect them to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Although shelters for those experiencing violence may have limited space, motel and hotel managers can offer refuge to someone who can no longer live safely in their own housing. Employers can support paid sick leave as well as leave for anyone who needs assistance with coping from violence.
If you know someone who needs help, many organizations now offer their crisis lines via chat or text, remote advocacy, tele-counseling, and other ways to privately communicate with a confidential advocate while social distancing. Emergency shelters are also open and offer temporary housing with safe, social distancing practices in place:
You can also help if you know someone who is using abusive behaviors. Here are some basic steps to follow:
- First, know the warning signs of abuse in a relationship.
- Prepare yourself for a conversation with your friend or family member if you feel like they are using abusive behavior. Before you talk with them, be clear about your own feelings and expectations.
- Have the discussion in a non-shaming, non-blaming manner.
- Follow-up. Don't let the issue fall back behind closed doors.
- Don't give up. Remember that changing your own behaviors requires both a serious decision and support.
- If you have a friend or family member who uses controlling behaviors, stay in touch with them during this time. Be available to talk about how things are going, and to offer reminders that we are in a very stressful time. Remind them that children, and families as a whole, are reacting in normal ways (being easily irritated, children acting ‘younger’ than usual, etc.) to abnormal circumstances. Now is not the time to have high expectations of children to do as they are told.
You can find further information on how to reach out to someone using abusive behaviors at Stand Up Colorado.