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Domestic violence has many faces

by Natalia Vander Laan

While the financial challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the shelter-in-place order continue to be loudly and publicly discussed, some other hardships remain largely muffled. Two such dangers caused by the pandemic that often remain hidden in the privacy of one’s home are domestic violence among intimate partners and child abuse. The loss of one’s job, the financial struggles, the anxiety, and the confinement within the house not only magnify the tensions but also impair the family’s ability to resolve conflicts constructively. As the restrictions continue, acts of domestic violence increase and the associated reporting decreases.

Domestic violence has many faces. The abusive behavior used by one partner against the other does not just consist of physical and sexual violence, but can also encompass threats, coercion, emotional abuse, and denial of financial resources. Anyone in an intimate relationship can be a victim of domestic violence regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or social standing. Child abuse also manifests itself in various ways, from neglect, bullying, to physical violence.

While current unusual circumstances cause such an increase in domestic violence, its reporting drops drastically. For one, it is more difficult for a victim to leave home or access safe physical spaces or resources. Also, the ones who usually notice and report neglect and abuse such as relatives, friends, neighbors, and teachers are not having contact with the victims during the pandemic due to the shelter-in-place order. Thus, in those difficult times, it is our responsibility to watch out for possible warning signs of abuse that manifest in bruises and injuries without reasonable explanation, patterns of frequent injuries, emotional distress, and appearance of neglect.

It is crucial that the victims of domestic violence know they can receive help. The State and private non-profit organizations offer a variety of services. Many attorneys offer assistance in the form of free legal services such as being a volunteer attorney for VARN’s Domestic Violence Victim’s Assistance Program, where victims can seek help to break free from abusive relationships and help restore both physical safety and emotional peace.

VARN provides pro bono civil legal services for eligible low-income individuals and families in one of two programs. The first program is the Pro Bono Project in which qualifying individuals are matched with an attorney donating legal services. The second program is Lawyer in the Lobby where an appointment for a 20-minute consultation is scheduled with a volunteer attorney during different sessions throughout the month. At this time, in-person appointments are suspended, but VARN continues its work by offering telephonic consultations.

Pro bono assistance is available to low-income individuals and families that meet income guidelines and generally are not financially able to afford an attorney. VARN does, however, waive these income qualifications for its Domestic Violence Victim’s Assistance Project.

VARN’s Domestic Violence Victim’s Assistance Program helps victims in rural Nevada counties escape abusive relationships by providing the following free services: crisis counseling, safety planning, emergency legal representation to obtain protection orders, legal representation in divorce and custody matters as well as information and referral to other resources.

To apply for DVVAP services, visit VARN online at http://www.varn.org or call 775-883-8278. Please remember that when using the internet for information, it is important to know that an abuser can track your online activity.

You can contribute to VARN to help its services become available to more in need by donating monetary or non-monetary gifts, volunteering services, or lending office space or rooms.

During this unusual time, it is more important than ever to understand the risks of domestic violence and to provide help to its victims.

Natalia Vander Laan is a Minden attorney practicing estate planning, family law, and workers’ compensation.