Social distancing isn't safe for domestic violence victims

Illustrated by Diana Ortega

Many police departments across the United States have seen an escalation in the number of domestic violence-related calls recieved during the COVID-19 pandemic, as predicted by experts, according to a recent article published by NBC News.

Sgt. Charles Hernandez II, public relations officer for Flagstaff Police Department (FPD), said the department was among those that saw an increase in domestic violence calls during the month of March.

Hernandez said FPD responded to 149 domestic violence incidents in March, an increase from 121 incidents in February. In 2019, FPD responded to 132 incidents in March with a greater number of 144 domestic violence incidents in February.

There is much speculation in the media that these increases are due to the stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders that have been implemented by government officials throughout the country, but Hernandez said there are other reasons to consider as well.

“I do not know that we can definitively state with certainty that this increase was a result of the stay-at-home order, as there are many other social factors to consider, especially with individuals facing financial uncertainty as well as job loss concerns and family support stressors,” Hernandez said.

According to the U.N. Women website, these increases are not limited to the U.S. but are being experienced around the world in response to the pandemic.

“Emerging data shows that since the outbreak of COVID-19, reports of violence against women, and particularly domestic violence, have increased in several countries as security, health and money worries create tensions and strains accentuated by the cramped and confined living conditions of lockdown,” according to the website.

As the numbers of these incidents escalate, so does the involvement from a variety of agencies and advocates for those abused with domestic violence, according to U.N. Women.

“In Canada, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States, government authorities, women’s rights activists and civil society partners have indicated increasing reports of domestic violence during the crisis, and/or increased demand for emergency shelter,” U.N. Women stated.

Psychologist Nadine Kaslow, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University, attributed the increase in domestic violence incidents during the COVID-19 pandemic to a number of contributing factors, according to the American Psychological Association (APA) website.

Among the complications mentioned on the APA website, Kaslow stated people experiencing domestic violence are unable to flee to the safety of family and shelters, which have become increasingly unavailable throughout the course of social distancing and other safety measures limiting accessibility.

“The things people use in their safety plan are no longer available, which leaves survivors trapped in an escalating cycle of tension, power and control,” Kaslow stated on the website.

Kaslow also mentioned another problem with getting help is shelters going out of business due to the financial strain. Also, emergency rooms are filled to capacity with people who have contracted coronavirus and there is a risk of exposure.

Closer to home, the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence (ACESDV) has shown a decrease in the number of calls from February through March. However, ACESDV victim service manager Danielle Wright said the lower number of calls may not accurately reflect the incident rate.

Wright explained that the 123 calls received in March — as opposed to 134 calls in February — may correlate to stay-at-home orders because people who experience abuse are isolated with their abusers and unable to make the calls in private, in fear of retribution.

ACESDV co-chief executive officer Tasha Menaker echoed a similar concern for people who are unable to report domestic violence due to isolation with their aggressors.

“This is by no means reflective of the incidents of domestic violence in the state, as hotline calls are generally down for most programs,” Menaker said. “Survivors are likely having a very difficult time making calls for assistance during this time while many of them are spending most of their day with their abuser.”

Even with the limitations in place, there are a number of resources for anyone who feels in danger. The Sexual and Domestic Violence Services Helpline has many different contact methods, and that information can be found here. The link to Victim Witness Services for Coconino County can be found here, and finally, more details about domestic violence can be found at the National Domestic Violence Hotline here.