The numbers don’t show it, but domestic violence has increased during the pandemic.

“People are quarantining with their abusers. That’s just the reality of the situation,” said Kim Hughey, clinical manager of outpatient psychiatric services at The Hospital of Central Connecticut in New Britain.

Hughey’s role includes oversight of the Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) program at The Hospital of Central Connecticut. Federally-funded by the Office of Victim Services, the program helps victims of domestic violence, childhood abuse or neglect, assault, sexual assault, elder abuse, stalking and harassment.

She said the isolation and financial stress associated with COVID-19 has fueled more difficulties in relationships — including violence. But people are reluctant to seek care because there are not many safe places to go during a pandemic. For those who do seek help, VOCA has had to adjust its approach, including offering help virtually.

“It’s been a really difficult balance,” Hughey said. “You are essentially imprisoned with someone who is abusing you. We’ve really shifted from ‘how do we safely get you out?’ to ‘how can we safely help you where you are?’”

Social factors are putting people at risk – increased stress due to job loss, inability to stay with family and friends to get away from an abuser, lack of shelters due to social distancing requirements or even just going to the local gym to let off some steam aren’t so easy in the middle of a pandemic.

To help with this, VOCA now offers its services virtually, including some group therapy. But virtual doesn’t work for everyone so in-person treatment and therapy remains available to those who prefer it.

While statistics don’t necessarily indicate a rise in domestic violence during COVID-19, a 2019 study on how Hurricane Harvey affected families found higher rates of domestic violence and child abuse.

The same factors exist in a pandemic, leaving people in an escalating cycle of tension and violence. While many resources that were available pre-pandemic are not available now – VOCA is.

“We are here,” Hughey said. “We can meet people where they are, and provide them with the resources, support and help they need, in a non-pressurized, confidential way.”

VOCA is federally funded, and not billed through insurance to maintain confidentiality. It is open to anyone in Connecticut, but the services must be provided either virtually or at The Hospital of Central Connecticut.

“We are confidential and focused on protecting and helping the victims of abuse,” Hughey said. “We don’t ask for evidence or police reports to qualify people for our services, all of which are free.”

Services include individual and group therapy, and help with medication management, although medication itself is not covered. HOCC also offers various services that are funded by the Office of Victims Services, including:

  • Emergency gift cards for food or clothing.
  • Bus passes.
  • Emergency transitional housing.
  • Information on connecting with the Office of Victims Services or additional services such as greater compensation and legal assistance.

Hughey said many people who experience violence struggle with the resulting shame as well as behavioral health issues such as depression and anxiety. VOCA team members support clients as they help them rebuild their own strength and confidence.

For more information on the VOCA program, call The Hospital of Central Connecticut Counseling Center at 860.224.5267.