With more people at home — be it from no school, work, or even working from home — due to the coronavirus, officials say victims of domestic violence are more likely to be in a position of being abused.
In Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey’s order to “Stay Home, Stay Healthy, Stay Connected” urges people to limit their time away from home. However, that order might keep alleged abusers near their victims more often, whether family members or someone with whom they are in a relationship.
“Somebody who was not violent before is not suddenly going to become violent,” said Jill Messing, PhD, an assistant professor at Arizona State University, when addressing the order’s affects on domestic violence. “But it may create a situation where someone who is already experiencing violence or abuse is in more danger or faces more risk, and more frequent and severe violence.”
Multiple police agencies in the Valley are reporting increases in domestic violence calls in March 2020 than in March 2019. The month saw social distancing recommendations ramp up, keeping people at home from school and the office.
In an email to the Daily Independent, Surprise police said they have received 120 calls for service for domestic incidents last month, a 29% increase from the 93 incidents in March of last year. Buckeye police said their officers responded to 90 domestic-related calls last month, a 25% increase from the 72 domestic incidents in March 2019.
Scottsdale had 51 domestic violence related part 1 offenses in March 2020, up from 43 in March 2019, according to records.
Over in Peoria, police have seen an increase of 70 domestic calls for service in March 2020 from March 2019. Police said these calls range from fighting or arguing to neighbors calling to report something they heard that may have been domestic violence-related.
And according to KTAR 92.3, Phoenix police dispatched officers to 3,587 domestic violence calls last month, up from 3,395 the same time last year.
“It’s more the people who are in violent relationships that may be exacerbated,” said Ms. Messing, who teaches in the School of Social Work and is director of the Office of Gender-Based Violence at ASU. “The first thing I might think about is domestic violence victims and their children are spending more time with their abuser. So there’s more opportunity for abuse. It may be the abuser used to go to work and now they’re not doing that. Or the victim may have been going to work every day and she’s not doing that. And so there aren’t those sort of respites. They’re together a lot more.”
While March numbers have increased year to year, Phoenix police Sgt. Mercedes Fortune told KTAR that the reports appeared to increase more after Mr. Ducey issued a stay-at-home order March 31.
Phoenix police received 942 domestic violence calls in the first seven days of April, a 15% increase compared to the 820 calls made the same time last year, Ms. Fortune told KTAR. That also corresponded to more calls per day in April than March.
But numbers are numbers. The people behind them tell the real story of what’s happening.
The Daily Independent obtained multiple court documents over the last two weeks showing a range of violence between couples, a person and their child, or a person and another’s child.
That includes Peoria police Officer Kevin Daniel Moe, who was placed on temporary leave after allegedly assaulting his wife at their home in Surprise. Records state Mr. Moe allegedly broke his wife arm by pushing her to the floor because she had been throwing items around.
Over in Peoria, William Kay Anderson allegedly struck his girlfriend and her 10-year-old daughter in the head with a satchel. He claimed his girlfriend and her daughter had been preventing him from leaving their residence after an argument.
And in Phoenix, police responded to St. Joseph’s and Phoenix Children’s hospitals after Graciela Alejandra Aguilar Peraza allegedly hit her girlfriend’s 3-year-old son with a belt, causing him to fall and injure his face. She apparently assaulted the boy on multiple occasions, records state. At least one time was for not going to sleep. Another time, the boy threw a cup at his mother’s face, and Ms. Peraza disciplined him by allegedly hitting him with the belt and her hand. Overall, he had lacerations to his head, a black eye, swollen and split lips, bruises all over his body, and scratches.
“It’s important to think about kids because kids may be witnessing more abuse,” Ms. Messing said. “They were probably spending part of the day at school. That would give them a little bit of respite. And that’s something they might not have anymore.”
Ms. Messing added that it’s important not to attribute stress to causing violence.
“Increased stress may contribute to more severe violence,” she said. “We’re all under more stress due to staying home, being together all the time. We may have financial concerns. The kids are home all the time; we’re supposed to be homeschooling. Everyone’s concerned about their health. Unemployment is a risk factor for homicide. So with more people out of work, this could increase homicide risk as well.”
Sometimes when a defendant is arrested on suspicion of a crime against someone they live with, that defendant is required to find a new place to reside while the case plays out in court.
However, with COVID-19 playing out in Arizona and the world, Ms. Messing feels victims might be lenient on their alleged abusers, especially if they live in the same residence.
“They could be concerned about their partner getting sick,” she said. “If their partner were to go to jail and were to be exposed to the virus — and then the jail generally holds them for a period of time, like 24-48 hours — and then they’re free to leave on pretrial, that person could come home. They could have a stay away order, which means they have to go somewhere else. If they were to come home they could expose their partner and their child.”
According to the Community Alliance Against Family Abuse, individuals, families and communities are already experiencing immense burdens on their financial, mental and physical wellbeing.
The CAAFA says it has seen an increase in requests for services, likely due to the added stress and detriment of the current public health crisis.
Also, the CAAFA says history has shown that crises such as these have a tendency to manufacture breeding grounds for domestic and sexual violence.
Because of that, agencies like CAAFA remain open and available so survivors can access safety and support. However, CAAFA says the circumstances intrinsic to the COVID-19 crisis can produce long-term adverse outcomes for survivors. And vulnerable persons, minorities, and single mothers who have experienced violence might take a lot longer to restore and recover.
“There’s a lot of focus on what people are experiencing now and that’s important to consider and offer support for,” stated CAAFA Executive Director Ray Villa. “No one is talking about the long-term effects this is going to have for the people we serve and for our communities as a whole.”
To help alleviate concerns of a rise in domestic violence, nonprofit A New Leaf has programs operating and actively working to provide hotline access, shelter, and legal assistance to residents of Maricopa County.
“With so many families facing unemployment while being forced to stay home, we fear the stressful circumstances will drive many abusers to violence,” stated Dana Martinez, director of Domestic Violence Services at A New Leaf. “We are doing our best to save lives and provide resources. We want the community to know we are here and ready to serve.”
A New Leaf operates domestic violence shelters, court advocacy programs, and the Maricopa County Domestic Violence Hotline that answers and screens calls, guiding victims to shelters across the county.
If you, or someone you know, needs help, immediately call 480-890-3039, toll free 844-723-3387, or use an online chat tool at www.turnanewleaf.org/services/domestic-violence.
Other resources are available for victims of domestic violence or child abuse, and even for those who witness the abuse. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).
In Arizona, the AZ Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence is available at 602-279-2900 or 800-782-6400. In Maricopa County, call 480-890-3039.
For child abuse, call 1-888-767-2445.
As always, call 911 in an emergency.
“Shelters are still open, domestic violence services are still open,” Ms. Messing said. “People are thinking about frontline workers in terms of doctors and nurses, but social workers are still working as well.”