Judge: Social distancing may increase domestic violence

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“THERE'S a lot of people who keep focusing on the positives, which is that Mother Earth is healing. Parents are spending more time with their children,” mused CNMI Superior Court Associate Judge Kim-Tenorio. “That’s in a good home, right? In a home with a strong family unit, with less stress.”

“But for people who are victims of abuse, this is not a safe time.”

According to Judge Kim-Tenorio, social distancing guidelines meant to curb the spread of Covid-19 may further endanger victims of domestic abuse.

“Victims are now isolated with their abusers,” she said. “They’re constantly being watched, so they may not be able to use their phone freely and call for help, or even message anyone.”

Maisie Tenorio, executive director of the Northern Marianas Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, told Variety she was concerned to see reports of domestic violence dwindle last month as the CNMI workforce underwent widespread furloughs, bars closed, and curfews were put in place.

“The numbers, in terms of requests for assistance, have gone down,” she said. “And that’s to be expected, given the fact that we’re talking about trauma or violence where the victim has to shelter in place, has to isolate themselves with their abuser.”

“We’re talking about the use of power and control by one partner against the other partner,” Maisie Tenorio explained. “So in situations like this, where we’re asking people to shelter in place, to stay at home, that control factor increases.”

She added that additional stressors like loss of income, paired with time to alleviate that stress with drugs and alcohol, may create even more danger for victims.

“Just being in the same space with people 24/7 can cause a lot of stress and tension,” she said. “So those things might increase the danger factor for victims.”

While requests for assistance may have decreased in our community, domestic violence reports around the world have skyrocketed, to the extent that United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a domestic violence “ceasefire” in early April and requested that governments across the globe adopt domestic violence mitigation measures into their general response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In France and Spain, for example, government officials created a new reporting system in which victims of domestic violence can alert pharmacists of their situation through the use of certain code phrases.

“Victims need to be more strategic as to how they reach out for that help,” explained Audrey Ada, manager of the CNMI’s Sexual Assault Response Team or SART.

“We’ve all been encouraging our community members to really reach out to whoever they feel may be living with violence and abuse and just check in with them,” Maisie Tenorio added. “Because that might be [the victim’s] lifeline to try and get help.”

She said she wants to remind the CNMI that “Karidat Social Services, the Office of the Attorney General, the Family Court, and so many other agencies are available” to help victims of domestic abuse and remain open despite the pandemic.


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