We’re social distancing but could we be doing more for survivors?
Legal Voice Staff Attorney Catherine writes:
I live in a queer household with my partner, our housemate, and two cats. We’ve been working from home for weeks and have each carved out “office” space. We put a table and chair in the laundry room because it has a door – so many Zoom meetings! I bake gluten-free banana bread; we go through many bags of salty snacks. We’re incredibly lucky to be safe, together, housed, fed, and “held in mind.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic has been disorienting and scary, the community has come together in beautiful ways, including the rapidly growing (but still incomplete) list of mutual aid groups. Mutual aid is based on the principle that the community can and should share with each other reciprocally; that we can help meet one another’s needs in a self-directed, grassroots way, rather than relying exclusively on government solutions. For some groups of people – Black, Indigenous, and People of Color; LGBTQ+ people; those living with disabilities – mutual aid may be the safest or most reliable source of support. Understandably, right now, mutual aid groups are focused on food, medicine, and monetary needs, but some are open to offers of and requests for socially distanced companionship or regular check-ins.
As has been widely covered in the media, survivors of gender-based violence face increased risk of harm while quarantined. Domestic violence hotlines are open and available, but survivors may not have the time or space to call for help or support. Merril Cousin, the director of the Coalition Ending Gender-Based Violence said, "Survivors’ friends, family members, and other informal support networks are critical to their safety, health, and well-being, always and even more so during this time."
We’re probably all checking in with our friends and family, but what if we extended that circle a bit? Called or texted neighbors and acquaintances to see how they are faring. We could also sign up with local mutual aid groups to check in on people. The Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s Friends and Family Guide offers a framework to support survivors. Also, anyone can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline for support. Additionally, Nalgona Positivity Pride recently held a webinar about living with an abuser during social distancing.
From the comfort of my laundry room, where I’m writing this, I completed the “Seattle COVID-19 ‘Offer Support’ Volunteer Form,” and in addition to other tasks, I wrote “companion or check-in calls” under the question about other skills. Hopefully, many more people will offer mutual aid, and by our normalizing it, survivors may feel more able to request check-ins from the group.
However, the only way this system works is if the spirit of mutual aid is honored, as an entirely voluntary exchange among equals. There is no savior* in mutual aid. It’s a system of care. Of being “held in mind.” It’s one thing we can all do to offer support to others and hope that in the process, we’re supporting survivors, too.
* It is never permissible to involve law enforcement without the consent of the survivor.