NEWPORT—While the greater majority of citizens have benefited from sheltering during the days of the COVID-19 pandemic, opting to distance themselves from others and avoid crowds where they might contract the virus, a segment of the population have found themselves suffering more than usual.

These are domestic violence victims, stuck at home with their abusers.

Van Wolfe, SafeSpace Executive Director, and Dr. Rich Lloyd, a member of SafeSpace board of directors, spent Tuesday spreading the word about the critical situation.

According to Wolfe, “We have a 26-bed shelter and regularly have 20-25 victims with us. Right now we’re running three to five.”

Why such a drop?

“The abusers are telling their victims, ‘You don’t have a place to go. They also say the court system is not operation, which, of course, is untrue. They taunt their victims, saying, ‘Go ahead and call! There’s no one to come!”

“The victims also don’t have the respite of going to work, to church, or to other locations and getting away from the situation for at least a few hours,” she added.

This is not a situation peculiar to the local area.

“We have about 50 shelters across Tennessee,” said Wolfe, “and they are all reporting the same issues.” The local shelter serves Sevier, Cocke, Jefferson, and Grainger Counties.

“History has shown that during natural disasters, domestic violence numbers go up,” said Lloyd.

“We’ve also heard that some victims are afraid the shelters are not healthy. That isn’t so,” continued Wolfe. “Masks and gloves are worn and cleaning occurs several times daily. The shelter is large enough that people can socially distance themselves easily. Please dispel this fear.”

Wolfe and Lloyd want victims to know they can call the crisis line – 1-800-244-5968 – twenty-four hours a day. “They can also contact us on our website, safespacetn.org, or FaceBook at Safe Space of East Tennessee, plus they can message us on Face Book or email. Sometimes this is their only way of contacting us,” Wolfe said.

SafeSpace is funded mostly through VOCA (Victims of Crime Act), a federal agency. But local fundraisers help, too, such as the United Way and Emergency Food and Shelter Money (FEMA).

“We also get money through victims’ assessment orders from the courts. Locally our main fundraiser is our annual gala, held each spring. This year’s event had to be cancelled.”

As a result of such loss of funding the local shelter is in need of “in kind support” - toilet paper, cleaning products, and personal hygiene items. “We receive much of this from local churches,” explained Wolfe, “but because they haven’t been having services, we’re way down.”

In closing, Wolfe and Lloyd emphasized their message to domestic violence victims: “Yes, we are here. Yes, you can get help. Everything is free; everything is confidential. We are not shut down!”

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