by Aja Hannah
As a crime reporter, every Monday, I gather reports from nearby townships and counties on the major crimes of the week. Since Gov. Mike DeWine’s mandate to “stay at home,” I have noticed a drop in crime reports — except for domestic violence incidents.
Akron Police Department Community Relations Lieutenant Michael Miller says, “Overall, our calls for service are down.” Much of the department’s time is spent “Not actively enforcing [stay-at-home orders], but educating people.”
“People are staying in their houses,” adds Springfield Township.
Law enforcement officers at Lakemore Police Department have noticed that their crime reports have also decreased, but that the number of domestic violence calls had the same slight uptick in February as it usually does around the holidays in December.
Police may be called to a home for a domestic dispute, but they often determine that no physical violence occurred or that they cannot determine who the primary aggressor was. Many times these reports — the ones without arrests — don’t make it into the papers.
How does COVID-19 change domestic violence?
Because of Ohio’s Stay At Home order, people in abusive relationships no longer have miscellaneous reasons to leave the home to get away from an abuser. Their options for escape or using community supports are also limited. Communicating with family, friends, or domestic violence community resources for information or help is more difficult when everyone is home all the time: How do you make a phone call about abuse when the abuser is in the other room?
Formulating an escape plan may be more difficult with the risk of contracting COVID-19, too. Families or friends may not be as willing to open their homes. People needing to leave an abuser may be worried about traveling or using public transportation.
Abusers may become more aggressive because of close quarters and financial issues. Children are at home 24/7, making parenting more difficult: The younger ones want constant attention and the older ones don’t understand why they can’t go play with their friends. There are more people underfoot, asking for things, complaining, and distracting working parents.
The CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH), Katie Ray-Jones, has made this statement:
“The Hotline’s call, chat and text volume remains in the average 1,800 – 2,000 per day range. However, we are seeing an increase in the number of survivors reaching out who are concerned with COVID-19 and how their abusive partner is leveraging COVID-19 to further isolate, coerce, or increase fear in the relationship. Between March 10 and March 26, we have had 1,216 contacts who have mentioned COVID-19,” she said.
Online, NDVH has a list of ways abusers may try to take advantage of those in their homes during COVID-19 without it coming to the attention of police. These include withholding disinfectants and hand sanitizer, sharing misinformation to frighten and control others, withholding insurance cards or preventing people from seeking medical attention, and justifying their isolation techniques.
At this time, ACCESS Shelter and the Hope & Healing Survivor Resource Center (affiliated with the Battered Women’s Shelter and the Rape Crisis Center) in Summit County are still open and taking in guests.
Hope & Healing is still answering their hotlines, phones and emails. They are offering counseling through tele-therapy and are setting up Zoom calls for people that prefer face-to-face conversations. Hope & Healing still has courthouse advocates available to help survivors of domestic violence get orders of protection. All their information can be found on their website.
NDVH advises that people in domestic violence situations at this time reach out to family and friends, make a plan, and — in extreme situations — consider staying in their cars.
If you feel like you can’t call the police or you do not have enough proof for your abuser to be arrested, you can reach out to NDVH at 1-800-799-7233. NDVH also has a live chat and a text line.
Aja Hannah is a writer, traveler, and mama. She believes in the Oxford comma, cheap flights, and a daily dose of chocolate.