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Stories and information in our region on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reports Of Domestic Violence Increase Under Lockdown

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Stay-at-home orders and social distance rules are designed to protect people from the spread of the coronavirus. But those same safety measures could have the opposite effect on people in abusive relationships. 

Data shows incidents of domestic violence have increased in recent weeks with social distancing orders and entire families forced to stay at home, together. 

Suffolk County Police said domestic violence calls in March were up 7% compared to the same time last year. In Connecticut, Hartford Police needed to create a dedicated domestic violence unit after a 20% increase in calls.

Alicia Bosley, director of the Marriage and Family Therapy program at Hofstra University, says living in such close quarters, plus the fear of the virus, and anxiety about paying the bills when working from home or now, not at all...it can be a dangerous combination for someone trapped at home with an abusive partner. 

“It's kind of a perfect storm of all the factors that we know tend to contribute to this type of incident, where there is victimization or control,” Bosley says. 

Bosley says domestic violence — whether it’s physical or verbal — is about one thing. 

“Generally, it is about control,” Bosley says. “A lot of it has to do with needing to feel in control, in charge, important in your relationship.”

Victims may not be able to get to a phone or have access to a computer to seek help without their partner over their shoulder. Bosley says social distancing means victims have had to get more creative to find help. 

“We've had people go to pick up food at drive-through windows and hold up a sign for the drive-through attendant saying, ‘Please help me,’” Bosley says.

Colleen Merlo is executive director at Long Island Against Domestic Violence. The group operates a hotline and a shelter for abuse survivors. She says domestic violence reports often increase when there’s a natural disaster. 

“We can talk about Superstorm Sandy,” Merlo says. “For certain communities, people were very devastated, emotionally. People lost their homes. Financially, people lost jobs and businesses. And we did see a spike of domestic violence.”

Now, Merlo says some abusers have weaponized the pandemic against their partners, by limiting their access to news about the coronavirus. 

“We know that abusers will use any tactic possible to exert that power and control,” Merlo says. “And the virus is offering that new tool.”

Merlo says before the pandemic, it was easier for survivors to escape to a friend or family member’s house. But that’s not an option right now. 

“They're afraid of not only the abuser now, but they're afraid of contracting the virus or God forbid, spreading the virus,” Merlo says. 

Amber Kelly, who teaches social work at Quinnipiac University, recommends people find ways to maintain their social ties as much as possible.

“Whether that's phone calls, or Zoom, or whatever — and you may need to make excuses for why you need to place those phone calls, et cetera — but keep those social connections however you can, so that if things get bad you can leave.”

And it doesn’t have to be tied to some kind of escape plan. Kelly says everyone should find some way to unwind — with exercise, or a moment alone, or a socially distant visit with friends. 

“We want to make sure that people know that they can be using these other coping mechanisms so that we don't fall back on our worst coping mechanisms,” Kelly says.  

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The number is 1-800-799-7233. Call 911 in an emergency, or to report a suspected incident of domestic violence. 

CTSafeConnect is available by calling or texting 1-888-774-2900. Long Island Against Domestic Violence’s 24-hour hotline is 631-666-8833.

Read the latest on WSHU’s coronavirus coverage here.

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