Domestic violence trends upward during pandemic

Groups report decline in calls for help

Posted 8/14/20

The COVID-19 crisis has kept people home more often, but that doesn’t mean everyone is safe indoors.

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Domestic violence trends upward during pandemic

Groups report decline in calls for help


The COVID-19 crisis has kept people home more often, but that doesn’t mean everyone is safe indoors.

According to the Phoenix Police Department, violent crime has increased during the first six months of 2020 compared with the same time last year. From January to August 2019, there were 3,475 violent crimes. In 2020, there have been 4,355 during that same stretch, a 25.3% increase.

Homicides have increased from 74 to 93, according to Phoenix police. Of those, domestic violence related homicides increased from 10 to 24.

“In 2020, one of the most impactful calls that I went to — and I know that our detectives have truly been impacted by that call — we had a mom, a suspect, who took the lives of her three very young children,” Sgt. Mercedes Fortune said via Facebook Live. “Those type of calls you always try to find out why. Why would someone who loves and is responsible for caring for someone could do something like that. And those really leave an impression.”

Tucson also has seen a rise in aggravated assaults, Cronkite News reports, but not large enough to offset the overall drop in other violent crimes — murders, rapes and robberies.

Ms. Fortune said they couldn’t touch on specific reasons for the increases and stopped short of tying the increases to the current health pandemic.

However, Dr. Sandi Curtis, a licensed music therapist specializing in survivors of domestic and sexual violence, sees the pandemic playing a role in increased domestic violence because victims must quarantine with their abusers.

“The coronavirus pandemic has seen the rise of something called the ‘shadow pandemic’” Ms. Curtis told the Daily Independent. “This is an incredible rise in domestic violence incidents in the U.S. and around the world. While people are being requested to stay home to safe from the coronavirus, women in abusive relationships are anything but safe at home. Being at home 24/7 with their abuser makes it difficult for abused women to get help and get out. This can be amplified with the added stress of the pandemic that can escalate the violence.”

Along with that stress, Ms. Curtis said specific factors, such as job loss and potential eviction, can exacerbate the situation and make it more challenging for victims to escape. Limited access to financial resources also make it more difficult for victims, particularly if they have children to care for.

Ms. Curtis said abusive people frequently control their partners’ lives — including access to money, friends and family. All these can compound the challenges victims face.

“It is important, however, to understand that domestic violence is a longstanding and serious problem. The coronavirus does not cause the violence, it simply makes a bad situation worse.”

Even more dire is what groups supporting domestic violence victims are seeing.

Since mid-March, officials with the nonprofit A New Leaf said there’s been a gradual decline in the number of people calling SAFEDVS, its hotline that assists with connecting people to domestic violence resources and services.

Dana Martinez, director of domestic violence services at A New Leaf, noted an average 30% decrease in call volume from April to June compared to the same time in 2019. The trend continued through July with a 36% decrease in calls from July 2019, she said.

“We speculate that people experiencing DV may not have the opportunity to reach out for help if they are quarantining at home with their abusive partner, practicing social and physical distancing guidelines, working from home, or have lost jobs and feel that this isn’t a good time to leave with all the unknowns and uncertainties going on,” Ms. Martinez stated. “They may be worried about what services are available and not wanting to go into a shelter environment with all the cautions about congregate settings. Additionally, those with children may have added concerns about leaving and exposing their children to unknown environments.”

For the fourth quarter at DVSTOP, there was about a 10% increase in the number of households served. The overflow program assists people who have an imminent safety concern for whom no shelter space available.

“In our shelter programs we have had to be creative in how we assist the residents with maintaining social/physical distancing,” Ms. Martinez stated. “Because of this, our capacity in both of our shelters is somewhat limited. While the beds we do have available are consistently full, we have noted about a 35% decrease in the number [sic] of people served in the fourth quarter. However, the length of time people are staying in the shelter has increased by about 40%.”

At New Life Center in Goodyear, CEO Myriah Mhoon said they also see fewer victims coming through their shelter doors.

“This is very concerning to myself and other experts in the field,” Ms. Mhoon stated. “The barriers of being able to leave have grown even more since COVID-19, due to the inherent need to stay at home and possibly around a perpetrator more. Survivors who are currently seeking services from our agency are receiving the best trauma-informed care. Our trained advocates understand the dynamics of domestic and sexual violence and respond with care and respect.”

While Phoenix-based UMOM provides a bevy of support for women and children experiencing homelessness, as far as new intakes and information provided, officials say they are not seeing an increase in domestic violence cases coming through their doors.

As the pandemic continues, donating to support services has become ever more important.

“COVID-19 has taken its toll on the agency as a whole in various ways. Our largest fundraiser scheduled for late March had to be canceled, other fundraising opportunities have had to be postponed or canceled,” Ms. Martinez stated. “We serve some of the communities’ most vulnerable citizens, many who are at high risk. This pandemic has made that more challenging with ensuring that staff and clients have access to PPE and appropriate cleaning and sanitizing tools. Our staff who work in many of our programs are considered essential workers as they provide critical services around the clock to those in need. However, staff overtime has been an issue in many programs as some staff have had to take leave for various COVID related reasons.”

People can donate to A New Leaf at

In March, when Phoenix police started to see some trends in crime, Ms. Fortune said they were proactive in making sure people knew resources were available to them, where they could get help and how important it was to get help.

As an alternative, Ms. Curtis, an internationally trained music therapist, encourages domestic violence victims to seek music as a potential healing source in their recovery.

“Music can be a particularly powerful resource for personal transformation in general and for recovery from trauma in particular,” she said. “Music affects us physically, emotionally, cognitively and spiritually, and it does so simultaneously, making its impact all the more powerful. One of the great aspects of music is its diversity — there are so many different types of music, providing something for everyone. I have found pop music particularly effective with women survivors because their problems are so deeply rooted in our sociocultural/political structures.”

While men aren’t always the abuser — and females the victims — Ms. Curtis said they are the perpetrator in 96% to 98% of cases.

“Of the 2%-4% involving women using violence, a large proportion of those are women striking back after years of being abused themselves,” she said. “That is not to diminish the small number of men who are abused. Their experiences are real and challenging. But it is important to recognize that the overwhelming majority involve women being abused by men. Why? Male violence against women is deeply embedded in our culture of misogyny and gender inequity. It is this culture that condones and perpetuates this type of violence.”

As the conversation on domestic violence continues, Ms. Curtis said people can support victims and survivors by listening and hearing their stories.

“While some worry that in saying ‘believe women,’ that any man can be accused, the reality is that for so long women were never believed,” Ms. Curtis said. “So, in responding to survivors, we need to ask ourselves are we perpetuating that failure to believe women — and ultimately that failure to value women. So much of our automatic response has been to think it didn’t happen, it couldn’t happen to her because it didn’t happen to every women, if it did happen then it wasn’t that bad or she asked for it. Let’s change that response and let’s truly listen to women survivors.”