Everyone and everything has been affected by the coronavirus, The Cottage and its clientele are no exception.
The Cottage is a local organization in the Athens area that helps anyone from children to adults who have experienced sexual abuse. Many of the services The Cottage provides have changed significantly. They became remote, do therapy virtually, and now have online support groups.
Executive Director Sally Sheppard says the amount of calls to the 24/7 hotline slowed down from when the coronavirus first happened, but now it is starting to increase again.
“I would say there’s been a 50% increase in the past couple of months,” Sheppard said.
This past summer, The Cottage had fewer clients. Sheppard thinks this is because the highest percentage of people who come to them are college students, so when they are not in town, fewer people use their services.
There was also a decrease in reports concerning younger students, but as opposed to getting them during the summer, it was during the school year.
“We had four in the month of April, which was really scary because I would think that more child abuse would happen when you are doing virtual school than when you’re not because a lot of kids are having to babysit other kids,” Sheppard said. “It makes me really scared for what kids are being exposed to.”
The Cottage, along with the rest of the world, has faced challenges that have changed how they operate, but some positive outcomes are evident.
Cottage representatives are still offering support in medical exams, and have a partnership with trained nurses or doctors to do them.
“You just have to be there when somebody needs a medical exam. Something like that, you don’t put off,” Sheppard said.
Thankfully volunteers are still plentiful. Sheppard says they have around 30 volunteers at the moment, and before the coronavirus, they had from 25 to 30 on average.
The main thing volunteers do is answer the hotline on weekends and at night for the most part, so social distancing is not as big of a concern since they work in isolation anyway. Although, their training was conducted online, which was a new effort by The Cottage.
Sheppard also says it’s easier to connect with more people now that The Cottage has more flexible online appointments.
“We are able to see some therapy clients that we’ve never seen before,” Sheppard said. “They’re able to connect with us better whereas before, they may have not been able to come to The Cottage for therapy, but now they can.”
Despite the challenges with Covid, The Cottage, has maintained and even opened up new avenues of support for the Athens Community.
“It is so damaging to the person who has been abused that there needs to be special places for them to receive services that are specific just for them,” Sheppard said.