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'There Is A Bit More Freedom': Arizona Domestic Violence Counselor Optimistic About Move To Virtual Sessions

Published: Thursday, August 27, 2020 - 1:47pm
Updated: Thursday, August 27, 2020 - 3:58pm
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LAUREN GILGER: Since the pandemic hit our state, domestic violence advocates have been worried. What can victims do when they are being told to stay at home when home is not a safe place for them to be? [In early August], the Phoenix Police Department reported that violent crime went up sharply in the first six months of this year in the first half of 2020 there were 24 homicides tied to domestic violence. That's up 140% from the same time the year before. There are many reasons for this from victims being stuck at home with abusive partners to being cut off from their support systems. And on top of that, it's more difficult than ever for women to access things like counseling and support groups because, well, we're all supposed to be staying away from one another. So now many of those services are becoming virtual. Catholic Charities is offering virtual counseling to connect with victims by computer or phone, even if they have to take the call from their car or while hiding in a bathroom. So let's hear now from one of those counselors who's trying to help victims of domestic violence remotely during this pandemic, Roxanna Francies. I spoke with her more about her work and how she's seeing the pandemic make things harder for her clients right now.

ROXANNA FRANCIES: I have seen this different stressors that have come from the pandemic, of course, and how it's, they've influenced the lives of victims or survivors, right, depending on where they're at in their journey. The lack of employment or lack of employment opportunity, children being at home and now, most recently, children being at home and in school — that just exacerbates the stress at home, which then just further perpetuates more incidents of abuse or at least gives opportunity to have more incidents of violence or abuse from, from intimate partners.

GILGER: So what are you hearing from, from victims that you're working with now? Like what kinds of situations are they finding themselves in as a result of this?

FRANCIES: I think the big one, of course, is probably the lack of privacy or the, you know, just not being able to do the regular stuff where there used to be safe places, maybe even just like going to the grocery was a safe place. It was a break from being from home or, you know, being able to visit family members or, you know, just being able to, to get out or even some of, some of my clients who join our D.V. support group, right. That would be like an hour, an hour and a half a week where they could just come and talk to other women who had similar experience, right. That's no long — that's not an option anymore for a lot of people. I've had some of my clients who have to take phone calls — our, our, our now virtual counseling, or we do phone calls or we do Zoom calls — that have to take it either from a parking lot, from a park bench, they have to take it from, from their car or sometimes even just in the bathroom. And so I hear, I hear children banging on the door like, "Mom, Mom, Mom," it's like, "Hey, Mom is in therapy right now," right? So I think there's definitely that part of, of, of it that is, you know, people are taking precautions, they're not going out. And so that means finding ways around it at home, and I think that's very difficult for a lot of people.

GILGER: I want to backup for a second because I'm sure there are people who are thinking, you know, why is it that people in this situation who are in, you know, an abusive situation stay in these situations? Right. Like, why would they be in the house to begin with, with an abuser? That is obviously a much more complicated question than it seems. Can you tell us a little bit about why people find themselves in situations like this to begin with?

FRANCIES: People, you know, they, they get the question asked like "Why? Why does she stay?" Right, or "Why? Why are you still with this person?" You know, where there's, like, obvious or very overt abuse or violence. But the truth of the matter is that people who are in a domestic violence situation or you know, just have — experienced intimate partner abuse, there's usually other underlying reasons why they stay. For example, the financial part of it is probably a big one, right? They stay because they have nowhere else to go, or sometimes it's just a rationalization of, "You know what, I, things are gonna get better," or "I have faith in our family," right?  Like, "I got, we got married for a reason. We have children. I have believe, I have hope that things are gonna be better." Other times it's just fear. It's fear, to, you know, stand up to a person, to have a voice, because there's probably been incidents or, or situations in the past where, you know, you spoke up, you were trying to be brave and it probably didn't go very well. So just fear of what the abuser might do. And I think other times it's also just, there's cultural stigma, right? There's a lot of different cultures or, or family backgrounds, religions that frown upon divorce or, you know, just being a single mother or a single father is not easy, right? So there's also these other familiar cultural restraints that leaves a person in the situation kind of stuck at times.

GILGER: Yeah. Yeah. So as a counselor and now as a counselor who can only work with these people on the phone or maybe online, if you're lucky, how do you help them navigate this?

FRANCIES: So our very first sessions, all of my clients that we do, we do a safety planning. It doesn't matter what part of their journey they're at, we still want to make sure that, that they have a safe place to go if needed — if they need to leave their home. And we want to make sure that they can have some type of financial independence in the case that they need to move out. We want to make sure they have a support group. And sometimes when that's not available, we just, we do safety planning around the home. "OK. Then what's the safest place in a home where, you know, there, that is going to be a reduced opportunity for incidents of abuse," right? So we're always trying to protect our clients. So safety is one of the first things that we work on. With other clients who are maybe, they're in the part of their journey where they're getting ready to leave, right, they're where they're getting ready for divorce, we focus a lot on their self-advocacy. "OK. How can you use your voice? How can you speak up? How can you start doing things that are gonna promote your independent living?"

GILGER: Yeah. What are your hopes for this? Is it, is it that this is only a certain amount of time and that you can get back to normal situations and these, these people that you work with will not have to be stuck in homes with their abusers anymore? Or is this something you think is going to be longer term and you're gonna have to figure out better ways to help them cope?

FRANCIES: I mean, I think that's everybody's question, right? Is it, is it going to be just a few months or is it going to be like a permanent change, right? And I think that's a bit more where I'm leaning towards, like, this is our new normal now, and I think we can really make the best out of it. If it is the case, which it seems like it, that, you know, we're going to continue having this telehealth for a while, then making just the best out of it and using technology in our favor. For example, there's been times where, where I've been able to share my screen with clients and we look, we look at a psycho-education video together, right? It's talking a little bit more about what's loneliness or, you know, what's the difference between being sad or disappointed, or even sharing articles using our email more than often, right? Before it was just, you know, just came in, schedule, we'll see you next week. But now we have that communication channel a bit more open through email or text. So there is a, there is a bit more freedom in a lot of other things that can be done through this medium now, this telehealth. And I think just really embracing it and making the best, the best of it is my hope. Yeah, and that we can continue doing good work together, like my clients and I and, and, and harnessing the technology and the times for the better.

GILGER: Yeah. All right. That is Roxanna Francies, a counselor who works with victims of domestic abuse for Catholic Charities here in the Valley. Roxanna, thank you so much for joining us to tell us about this.

FRANCIES: Thank you, Lauren. It was my pleasure.

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