Advocacy organizations had to adapt their work to meet survivors’ needs during the pandemic

Lauren Rochester is the Director of Grant Development Operations at Ivy Tech Foundation. She is currently in OPTIONS Class 20 and is a member of the Women’s Fund Engagement Committee.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on our way of life, but it has been especially difficult for women experiencing domestic or sexual violence. Shelter-in-place orders meant that these survivors would be confined to their homes, and advocates worried that they could face increased violence as a result.  Marion County 911 reported a 46% increase in domestic violence calls during the first month of the shutdown. The reported cases’ violence severity level also increased during this time. In August 2020, Laura Berry, executive director of the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said that the organization had “seen an 86% increase in domestic violence-related death, and we can clearly contribute this to COVID.”

Advocates Johna Lee, chief executive officer at Alternatives Incorporated, and Rio Krishnayya, executive director at Center for Victim and Human Rights, spoke to Women’s Fund during a virtual event about the need to educate the public on domestic and sexual violence issues.

Alternatives Incorporated strives to eradicate domestic and sexual violence through education, prevention, and intervention in Central Indiana. The organization serves survivors by providing both housing services and non-residential services. Non-residential services include case management, court advocacy, and support and education groups.

Center for Victim and Human Right’s mission is to empower and advance the safety of victims through legal representation and educational outreach. (The organization focuses on Marion County.) Civil protection order cases are a large part of CVHR’s work. Last year, the organization’s Crime Victim Rights Program provided legal representation for 350 Marion County civil protection order cases.


  • Quality over quantity – Although Alternatives Inc. had to restrict capacity due to COVID-19, the staff found that they could provide better quality services to the smaller group of women.

  • Technology is beneficial – Before COVID-19’s restrictions, using technology to connect with survivors felt insensitive to the Alternatives Inc. staff. Now that they must use technology like Zoom, staff members can connect with more survivors than ever before. The use of technology is more convenient for non-residential survivors than coming to an in-person appointment.

  • Survivors are resourceful – they do not always need shelter; they might just need something like a car repair. Reducing these types of barriers can make a big difference in survivors’ lives.

  • Mobile advocacy is a need – staff members at Alternatives Inc. need to go to the neighborhoods where survivors are located to provide services

  • Importance of resource fluidity – These advocacy organizations had to adapt their work to meet survivors’ needs during the pandemic. The ability to be flexible with their funding is key.

Both organizations noted that when the shelter-in-place orders started last year, Women’s Fund was the first funder to reach out to ask how they could help. In addition to past funding, Women’s Fund provided both Alternatives Inc. and Center for Victim and Human Rights with emergency funding for immediate COVID-19 relief.


  • Advocacy & Education – Turn information into advocacy. Talk to your friends and policymakers. Help people understand that domestic violence is more than just a bad relationship.

  • Advocate for the Violence Against Women Act. It passed the House, but it will be an uphill battle in the Senate.

  • Volunteer – At Alternatives Inc., volunteering can look like anything.

  • Provide a meal, an activity, educational group (providing your experience), building maintenance, landscaping, etc.

  • Supply Drives – Survivors at Alternatives can use anything that you use at home, for example, food, personal care items, shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, linens for the bed and bath

  • All residents receive a welcome basket of fun things
  • Welcome bag – things that they need – calendars, pens, pencils
  • Goodbye basket – things that you need when starting over in a new home

Since May 1999, Women’s Fund of Central Indiana has awarded 467 grants totaling $8,977,162 to 117 different women and girl-serving organizations. This includes grants made through our unrestricted fund, the OPTIONS Program, and our participation in the Summer Youth Program Fund. A gift to Women’s Fund of Central Indiana is a gift to Alternatives, Inc., and Center for Victim and Human Rights, and many organizations like them.

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