Our Intimate Partner Abuse Education Program Goes Virtual as Domestic Violence Rises During Pandemic Lockdown
PHOTO: WWLP-22News InFocus on May 10 addressed the dangers of domestic abuse while being quarantined. On the show, Audra Winn, clinical director of Outpatient Services at Gándara Center, discussed our programs and important domestic abuse protection and prevention resources in our community.
Domestic abuse has been rising during coronavirus lockdowns not only across America, but also around the world. Indeed, on April 5, the United Nations called for urgent action to combat the surge in domestic violence.
Domestic violence goes up whenever families spend more time together, such as the Christmas holiday season and during summer vacations. Because of this fact, Gándara Center managers who run the agency’s Intimate Partner Abuse Education Program (IPAEP) anticipated this surge and acted quickly when lockdowns were first enacted to make sure our services were still offered to those who needed them.
Since 1999, Gándara’s IPAEP has run group sessions for men with a history of domestic or partner violence. The groups meet in two-hour sessions, weekly, for 40 weeks. “That intervention never stopped when social distancing guidelines kicked in,” said Gloria Torres, Gándara’s criminal justice services coordinator. “We began running virtual groups on March 20.”
IPAEP interventions focus on stopping violence by helping the batterer to identify, confront, challenge, and change controlling and abusive behavior towards their partner and children. Gándara Center Director of Clinical Services Audra Winn said that behavior change and accountability is the program’s focus. “These men learn new ways of dealing with frustration and conflict in their intimate relationships,” she said. IPAEP also stays connected with the victim to see if any issues pop up during the program.
To be sure, because of the lockdown, all families in society have been getting used to spending much more time with one another, but Torres pointed out that some families with strife in the past and present are also coping with the stress of lost jobs and financial insecurities. “When you put a family together 24/7, conflicts happen,” said Torres. “But when you talk about cases that have a history of domestic violence—where there are already conflicts in the family—when you put those factors together, any little argument can flare up. So the men in our group are learning how to resolve conflicts without resorting to violence, psychological abuse, or verbal abuse.”
Also compounding the problem is that institutions that would usually help these families—such as schools—are closed. Teachers and child welfare workers don’t see students, and doctor visits are limited. Child custody schedules have to be altered, causing even more tension.
Fortunately, help is available for those who need it. Although Massachusetts Probate and Family Courts are closed, telephonic and/or video hearings are used for most emergencies. And if a restraining order is necessary, in Springfield one can go to the Metro Unit Substation at 75 Dwight Street to obtain one.
And Gándara Center’s IPAEP services, like all its services, will continue in this time of need, 24/7 and on-call after hours. The agency’s Outpatient Clinic number is 413-736-0395. “We also serve domestic violence victims and survivors,” said Winn. “If someone is not our client yet but really needs our help in this type of situation—either having abusive behaviors or is a victim of this—we will get this person registered and get them help.”