WATERLOO — As schools close for weeks and more people work remotely to protect against the spread of COVID-19, other kinds of risks may be rising for some of the most vulnerable in society.
Greater isolation and more time in the home could increase a range of incidences from sexual abuse to mental health problems, community advocates warn.
“The biggest concern that we have right now is that school is often the safe place for children in our community,” said Amanda Goodman, executive director of the Family & Children’s Council of Black Hawk County.
It’s frequently in the home that someone is physically, mentally or sexually abusing a child, she said. In Black Hawk County “90% of children know their abusers,” she added. “They’ve been groomed, they’ve been told this behavior is normal.”
Now, in some cases, such people “will have unlimited access to them over this extended period of time.”
The “pressure cooker” of worry over jobs, education and finances as the Cedar Valley grapples with the novel coronavirus can make the situation even worse, said Goodman. “Sometimes people take that and they lash out at children,” she said. “So the fear is very real right now for children in our community.”
Ben Brustkern, Cedar Valley Friends of the Family’s executive director, agreed that there’s an increased danger. The agency works with domestic abuse, sexual assault and human trafficking victims as well as providing assistance for those who are homeless.
“(At) home being quarantined isn’t always the safest place for people,” he said. “Because right now we’re talking about a situation where people are feeling more pressure. There’s a lot of different situations that will exacerbate the problem.”
Brustkern is not sure, though, if the agency will experience increased demand for its services. “That’s really hard to say whether this will cause a spike,” he said.