In 2011, a devastating EF5 tornado tore through the city of Joplin, and in the wake of that disaster, Lafayette House was there to provide services to survivors of domestic and sexual violence.
Louise Secker is the Director of Development for Lafayette House in Joplin. The shelter assists survivors of domestic and sexual violence, as well as people with substance use disorders. She spoke with KBIA’s Rebecca Smith about how the lessons of the 2011 Joplin tornado have helped them adjust to delivering care to survivors during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Rebecca Smith: Louise, from your perspective, as someone who worked and lived through that experience, how would you say this natural disaster, for lack of better word, how is this similar and different to some of the experiences that Lafayette House has had to navigate in the past?
Louise Secker: It's similar in that it really exposes the vulnerability of victims in a time of crisis in a community. You know, whenever stress levels are high, we see an increase in domestic violence, and we did see that after the tornado
Our shelter was not only at its maximum capacity, and again, that was somewhat related to the fact that the tornado disaster was about our clients had lost their homes. They literally had nowhere to go.
So, I'm curious, you know, how the current crisis – the pandemic – will affect that. It's not a loss of housing, it's the opposite. It's being isolated, potentially with your abuser. So, I'm anticipating that we will start seeing a spike in calls.
And then once they're with us, what are the long-term needs going to be? Again, after the tornado, we saw a lot more, you know, they were staying with us longer and had more needs, as far as connecting with jobs, connecting with housing, connecting with other resources.
That could be the same in this scenario. You know, a lot of our clients leave to go and work in retail or food service industries, which have been hit hard. So, as the pandemic affects the community long term, that exposes our clients to just greater needs over the long term too.
So, it could be that they're not only victimized while they're sheltered in place with their abuser, but even after things start letting up and they do access for help, are we going to be able to connect them with some of the same resources? As far as healthcare, job training, housing? You know, what's that going to look like?
Rebecca Smith: Do you think that your experiences navigating the world after the tornado have made you guys more nimble, perhaps?
Louise Secker: I think our experiences after the tornado had a huge were a huge benefit in us being able to plan for this and again, it's totally different, you know, we've had to be so quick in making changes to still meet client needs.
But, you know, we learned a lot of lessons after the tornado. I mean, that was the disaster here in Joplin that affected the entire community – it affected schools, churches, businesses, individuals. And, in that way, this is similar. I mean, this is a community crisis that's affecting all those sectors.
And so, we just learned a lot of lessons from how to work in disaster and how to best meet the needs of domestic violence victims within that. So, when it became clear that this was a community crisis, we were able to kind of dust off some of those lessons and put them into play again.
If you or anyone you know needs help, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673. For the Deaf Crisis Line videophone call 321-800-3323 or text HAND to 839863.
Or contact Lafayette House directly at 417-782-1772 or 800-416-1772.