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In April, the American Psychological Association published a report stating an expected increase in domestic violence and child abuse as stay-at-home orders began to sweep across the nation in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
It is an issue — area police departments (McPherson) and advocacy groups (Safe Hope) report either an increase in 911 calls or increases to help line calls in the past month. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men in the United States have experienced violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime, and the risks to victims are severe. CDC data link intimate partner violence with an increased risk of injury and death. About 1 in 6 homicide victims are killed by their intimate partners.
There have not been deaths in McPherson or Harvey Counties — two counties served by Safe Hope advocacy center — in the past month. But, despite fewer calls to assist law enforcement in a domestic situation, death is a concern according to interim director Courtney Becker.
“We are going on less calls where we go out with law enforcement,” Becker said. ”Anecdotally, there have been some high lethality concerns that we are dealing with. That is not abnormal, but it is a concern.“
And, he said, fewer calls to law enforcement does not mean possible victims are safer. Quite the opposite.
“I don’t know that they are any safer,” Becker said. “Their ability to reach out may diminish as abusers are home more.“
And those abusers are under stress.
In her 2019 study on how Hurricane Harvey affected families that had already experienced domestic violence, Dr. Joise Serrata found the stress associated with the disaster led to higher rates of both domestic violence and child abuse during and after the hurricane. Her study can be found at the American Psychological Association website, apa.org.
While the Newton Police Department reports fewer domestic cases for March through May, nearby McPherson is showing something very different.
According to Mark Brinck, administrative captain and public information officer, domestic-related reports or complaints the McPherson Police Department received have significantly increased when compared to 2019. In March, the reports doubled, and in April, they tripled. The increase is likely related to all of the changes that have taken place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The help line at SafeHope has seen something similar. While overall calls to Safe Hope have been “stable,” interim director Courtney Becker said, calls to the organization help line have increased.
“Our helpline calls are almost threefold higher than they were a year ago,” Becker said.
According to Newton Police Department domestic violence Detective Brandon Deck, during the five weeks of the stay-home order (March 30-May 3), the total number of reported domestic violence cases was down by 19% when compared to the same five-week period over the last three years. Domestic violence-related arrests are also down.
But that came with a caveat.
Deck pointed out that although the numbers are down, that may not accurately reflect what’s happening in homes throughout the community. If victims are forced to stay at home with their abusers, they may not have the ability to easily leave the situation.
Deck said victims may not be able to escape while leaving to go to work, school, or run errands. They may not have time away from their abusers when they could confide in a support person to get help. So the statistics tell a story, but it may not be the full story.
“We want to emphasize that during this time the police department is still committed to providing immediate response to victims and fully investigating to hold offenders accountable,” said Erin McDaniel, public information officer for the city of Newton.
In an emergency, victims can call 911 in both Harvey and McPherson counties. Safe Hope serves both counties as a safe house and services for abuse victims.
Brink said McPherson police officers continue responding to calls, taking action, and providing assistance or referrals. Assistance from the police department in an emergency is still available through McPherson County Emergency Communications, by calling or text messaging 911. In a non-emergent situation, assistance can be obtained by calling McPherson County Emergency Communications at 620-245-1266 or 620-245-1267.
“We encourage anyone in need of assistance with domestic violence to call Safehope via their 24-hour Help Line at 800-487-0510 or 316-283-0350,” Brink said.