Advocate working with Whitman community, shelter during shutdown

Jessica Matthews, YWCA advocate and sexual assault victims advocate (SAVA) for Whitman Campus, continues to work as more businesses and activities shut down to slow the spread of COVID-19 infections.

Available during Whitman shutdown

Although many Whitman students left for Spring Break and will not be returning to campus, Jessica remains available to students, faculty, and staff.  She is able to meet in person (provided they are not sick and social distancing is observed), talk over the phone, or meet via a secure videochat platform. 

We know that healing does not happen in a linear fashion, Jessica said, and perhaps there are certain stressors or triggers that are coming up for survivors at this time.  She is spreading the word to the Whitman College community that all students, faculty, and staff are still able to work with her as a resource in healing from intimate partner violence, sexual harassment, discrimination, or violence. 

“Whether you need help connecting to other resources, like receiving a rape kit at the hospital, filing a protection order, filing a Title IX claim, filing a police report, help getting connected to a counselor … or if you just need someone to talk to about past events,” Jessica said, “I’m here for you.”

Jessica has a SAVA Facebook page. You don’t need a Facebook account to see this page. During April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, you can find information about healthy relationships and consent on this page.

Shelter will remain open

Jessica will continue to spend part of her time with the YWCA domestic violence shelter so that it can stay open.  She tells her family and friends who ask if she is still working that the need to shelter women fleeing from abusive partners does not diminish during a global pandemic.  In fact, we may see an increase in need as stress and isolation increase for many families. 

 Jessica recently had a resident come to her panicked about the possibility of the shelter shutting down. “I assured her we have extra precautions in place, and that we’re not going away.”

To keep the shelter as safe as possible, Jessica said, we have had all residents sign a document with protocol to follow regarding the coronavirus, including social distancing measures, hand washing, sanitation and cleanliness procedures, and an agreement to notify staff if they are showing symptoms.  Additionally, we have shut down non-critical areas, including the TV room and the play room, and request that only one family use the kitchen at a time. 

Any new survivors will have a temperature check and answer four screening questions before admittance to the shelter.

“Our residents,” Jessica said, “are already facing incredibly stressful situations and are dealing with trauma, on top of trying to find housing, take care of medical needs, feed their families, find jobs … and now with the additional stressors of children out of school, layoffs from jobs, uncertainty in social programs slowing down or stopping, and fear of getting the virus, needless to say it has been a stressful time for many.”

She pointed out that she has seen a lot of solidarity and helping spirit as well, and that we often see this in our residents who are going through different yet similar experiences.  “The virus brings a whole added layer to that comradery and connectedness that our residents feel with each other in facing a crisis,” Jessica said. “We will get through this, together.”