Concern for domestic violence victims high during pandemic

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Dominican Father Charles Dahm was the main celebrant at an archdiocesan Mass for Domestic Violence Awareness and Outreach on Sept. 29, 2018, at Holy Name Cathedral. Dahm said parishes can help domestic violence victims during this time by sharing resources about the issue in their online ministries. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

After Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered people to stay at home to fight COVID-19, many expressed concerns about victims of domestic violence, including those who minister to them.

“There’s no question that domestic violence is up during this because of the stay-at-home order,” said Dominican Father Charles Dahm, director of the archdiocese’s Domestic Violence Outreach. “Anytime there is a crisis in the economy or health-wise, it increases domestic violence. It creates more tension and pressure in the home and more reasons for the abuse accelerating.”

For example, the 2008 economic recession saw an increase in domestic violence, he said.

So Dahm and others are getting the word out about the Network, a hotline for victims to call if they need help and or need to flee a violent situation. The  local hotline connects victims with agencies that can provide shelter and assistance.

Domestic violence victims can call the Network at 877-863-6338 or visit

Because many shelters are full right now, area hotels are offering free rooms to victims, and rideshare companies Uber and Lyft are offering free transportation. “It’s quite a challenge logistically, but for people who need to escape and find someplace to reside, there are facilities,” Dahm said.

Catholic Charities is doing its own outreach to domestic violence victims who receive counseling through the agency, said Pam Davis, director of Catholic Charities Department of Behavioral Health Services.

When the shutdown first happened, counselors reached out to their clients to give them the option of telehealth consultations, knowing that some may not be able to use that option easily since they are at home where their abusers also live.

“We’re trying to be as flexible as we can, because they don’t always know when their abuser may leave the house, so they don’t know when they can safely participate in a counseling session,” Davis said. 

For example, counselors have offered clients the option of texting them when their abusers leave and they have time to talk.

With any clients in domestic violence situations, counselors create safety plans that the clients can use if they need to escape from their homes quickly. Counselors revisited those plans with clients when the shutdown happened and made adjustments when needed. 

“We’re trying really hard to increase our support for people and be available, but it is scary. There’s a lot of worry and concern for people in these situations right now that it’s all heightened,” she said.

Dahm would like parishes streaming Masses and sending out newsletters or posting online bulletins at this time to also mention resources available to domestic violence victims.

“I think it’s important that the parishes recognize that within their membership, there is a high number of victims of domestic violence, mostly women but some men,” he said. “My experience, speaking in these parishes, is that I find them.”

Domestic violence is in every community and crosses every economic and racial background,  according to Dahm.

“We need to reach out to them and show them how they can find the help that they need,” he said. “It is casting the net somewhat in the blind because we don’t know them. We don’t recognize them. They don’t come forward easily.

Churches play an important part in reaching domestic violence victims, Davis said.

“It’s a place where they feel safe. Sometimes it’s the only place the abuser will let them go and let them go alone,” she said.

Often people believe that the church teaches that people must stay in a marriage no matter what, even if their own lives are threatened by abuse.

“To be able to go to church and hear that, ‘No, nobody has to live like this. Nobody’s expected to live like this. It’s not OK,’ is very powerful,” Davis said.



  • domestic violence
  • coronavirus

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