(Op-Ed by Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron)
In a matter of weeks, the novel coronavirus (“COVID-19”) has changed the way that we live our lives in the Commonwealth and throughout our country. Days spent at school and work have been replaced with online classroom sessions and conference calls. Homes have become makeshift offices and classrooms, as we all try to retain some semblance of normalcy in a situation that is far from normal.
Despite the anxiety and uncertainty generated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Kentuckians are coming together and proving that our state motto, “United We Stand, Divided We Fall,” is a creed that we take seriously in times of crisis.
We’re ordering takeout and purchasing online from local businesses. Young adults are picking up prescriptions and groceries for their elderly neighbors. Healthcare workers, first responders, and law enforcement are putting their own health at risk to make sure our communities are safe.
These are just a few in a long list of examples of how Kentuckians are coming together to support one another in these challenging times.
Across the state, everyone is making sacrifices to slow the spread and flatten the curve so that fewer Kentuckians are infected with COVID-19. While many of these sacrifices and changes are necessary to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, there are unfortunately unintended consequences as a result of social distancing policies.
We’re already seeing a spike in unemployment as a result of business closures from COVID-19. Lost jobs and wages, business closures, and bankruptcies, will all have long-term financial implications for our families and for our economy.
These economic uncertainties also create additional stress and anxiety that can exacerbate societal ills and existing public safety threats. Recently, a hospital in North Texas reported a spike in severe child abuse cases, which are being linked to stresses from the COVID-19 health crisis. As the leading state in the nation for child abuse and neglect, we must be cognizant of the increased risk that many of our most vulnerable children could face.
These same risks exist for victims of domestic violence, who suddenly find themselves isolated at home with an abusive, violent member of their family. ABC News reported that, nationally, domestic violence experts have expressed concern about the effect of social distancing, with the president and CEO of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence stating that, “with COVID-19, home can be pretty intense for domestic violence victims and survivors, due to the abusers ability to further control.”
These concerns show that the “vulnerable” we are so often speaking of during the COVID-19 crisis are not only those individuals who are in the high-risk category for contracting the disease, but also those who could be suffering because of the policies necessary to fight it.
It is up to us then, during this time of social distancing, to approach this pandemic with a long-term outlook focused on not only fighting back the spread of COVID-19, but also toward looking out for those who may have long-term financial, physical, and mental effects from the pandemic.
Many of our advocacy groups and support agencies are already stepping up to help our most vulnerable. Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky has put together “Hope-informed” approaches to help families with children cope with the restrictions from COVID-19, and the organization operates a helpline (1-800-CHILDREN) to assist caregivers who need support or resources. And, WDRB recently wrote about services being offered by the Center for Women & Families in Louisville during this period of social distancing, including a free, 24-hour hotline (844-BE-SAFE-1) for individuals who are in an abusive relationship and need help. You can also contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.
The month of April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and even though the need for social distancing may prevent us from gathering together to raise awareness about this important issue, it’s still incumbent on all of us to do our part. You should report suspected child abuse or domestic abuse to the statewide child/adult abuse hotline at 1-877-597-2331 or to local law enforcement or prosecutors.
Now, more than ever, we must continue to be the watchmen at the wall for our fellow Kentuckians. You have my commitment that our office will continue to do everything in our power to protect our most vulnerable by partnering with local prosecutors and law enforcement to stop those who try to use this pandemic for personal gain or to harm others. But, it will continue to take all of us working together so that we come out of this crisis stronger than before.