How one woman works to keep people experiencing domestic violence safe during coronavirus


Reports of domestic violence in the United States could be much higher than statistics show, because many victims are often afraid to speak out about the abuse. Pay attention to the signs of domestic violence to know if someone needs help. Wochit

Ana Burke’s work revolves around helping Vermonters who are experiencing domestic violence. That process looks different for her during the new coronavirus pandemic. 

Burke has served as the interim executive director for Steps to End Domestic Violence, based in Burlington, since November. In light of COVID-19, the administrative office is closed, in-person support groups are no longer available and new individuals aren’t moving into the shelter. But people can still reach the organization through the hotline or an online chat platform. 

How to get help: What if staying at home isn’t safe? How survivors of abuse can get help in Vermont

“The thing that’s on the top of my mind everyday is: Are we accessible to folks?” she said. “Are people able to reach out to us? Are they reaching out to us?”

The number of calls Steps receives through its hotline might not mirror the number of people it provides additional services to, depending on the callers’ needs, Burke said. For example, in 2019 she said Steps received more than 3,000 calls on its hotline and served about 1,500 people. Gov. Scott’s announcement of the stay-home provision seemed to coincide with a slight increase in calls that week, Burke said. 

“I suspect it’s going to continue to ebb and flow,” she said. 

Burke brought up how abusers maintain power, which she said can stem from emotional, physical or economic isolation. She worried this period might exacerbate that experience for some. But she also feels comforted by the creativity and thoughtfulness exercised by her staff.

One of her biggest challenges has been ensuring people know Steps is there for them and that her organization provides the advocacy they need. 

“Whatever that looks like for them in the moment.” 

Contact Maleeha Syed at or 802-495-6595. Follow her on Twitter @MaleehaSyed89

Please consider supporting our coronovirus coverage and local journalism by subscribing to the Free Press.

Read or Share this story: