Woman Inc's doors remain open during COVID-19

Woman Inc's doors remain open during COVID-19


Monday, May 25, 2020

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WOMAN Inc Crisis Centre, operators of the island's only functioning emergency shelter for victims of domestic abuse, says they are still fully operational despite the restrictions in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“Our 24-hour hotline [876-929-2997] is active, up and running, and if there are any issues at all, they can call. Lockdown or no lockdown; it doesn't matter. The services are still available,” said Woman Inc's outreach counsellor Angela Hall-Ingram.

The crisis centre provides assistance to victims of rape, incest, domestic crisis, sexual harassment at the workplace, human trafficking, and domestic violence. As a last resort in cases of dire emergencies, the crisis centre allows women to board at a secure facility until they can get back on their feet — at the crisis shelter.

“But the shelter is really a temporary emergency facility,” Hall-Ingram emphasised. “It is also not a very big facility and so the cases that we take for the shelter are usually cases that are urgent. That is, if her life is in danger and she is willing to leave her home.”

Because the emergency shelter is a communal, dorm-like space, the crisis centre has implemented measures to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 exposure to its staff and clients.

“We are more careful now, but it doesn't mean that if a woman needs to be rescued we won't rescue her,” the counsellor said. “We are following the Government's protocols in terms of hygiene and social distancing and as such we are not going to take the full capacity of people.”

Because oftentimes the children of women in crisis also have to be housed at the facility, additional measures are being put in place to better manage the movement and interactions of children within the facility.

Many issues handled by the crisis centre, however, are dealt with over the phone or in office, with the help of the police.

“When a woman calls, she speaks with a volunteer who is equipped with training and information relating to what she may require,” Hall-Ingram explained. “In the event that the volunteer cannot make a decision on her own, she is provided with back-up resource persons who have more information, and who are better able to make certain decisions.”

If a woman needs to be rescued based on the telephone assessment, then arrangements are made in tandem with the local authorities.

“It's kind of hard because you don't know what may trigger an abuser,” she admitted. “So in any situation, even before we have a crisis, we usually advise the women to be careful around the abusers and try to de-escalate minor conflicts if they can. Especially where there is a confined space, there is always the fear that something will happen, and it may escalate.”

In some cases, the crisis centre is called in by the police for assistance. In other cases, the centre reaches out to the police for assistance in getting around, especially during curfew hours.

“It's not easy being in the same space, especially if you're inside wondering what may trigger him and knowing that you might put yourself in more danger by trying to escape. But I don't think there is a sensible police officer who is going to lock up a woman who is running for her life, so if you are in immediate danger, don't be afraid to get help,” Hall-Ingram urged.

She noted that the process is much more seamless in the daytime when they are better able to screen walk-in clients for signs and symptoms of COVID-19, but regardless of the time, help is always one call away.

“We are up, running, doing what we need to do. It's just for you to let us know what is happening and we will do our best to assist,” she said.

Woman Inc is a voluntary, non-profit, non-governmental organisation that was founded in 1984. They have offices at 4 Ellesmere Road in Kingston and 53 St James Street in Montego Bay.

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